Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Crystal Ball

Northrop Grumman sees unmanned fighters, submarines, combat vehicles, and a bevy of commercial applications for future unmanned systems, and believes it’s well-positioned to be the world leader in the field, said Tom Vice, president of the company’s aerospace systems sector, on Tuesday. During a press briefing in Washington, D.C., Vice said the company’s long experience with drones—going back to the Firebee and earlier—through its success with Global Hawk, and now the X-47, means the company can be a top competitor for future projects. Industry forecasts a doubling of spending on unmanned air systems over the next decade, noted Vice, and while “I will not disclose our future systems . . . I can tell you” the future “will bring unmanned systems that refuel other unmanned systems and possibly manned systems.” Other applications include surveillance at “extreme altitudes,” cooperative engagement, and “swarming technologies” as well as “supersonic unmanned systems with a 25G capability” for possible future fighters, he said. Other potential projects include “advanced autonomous underwater systems” and next-generation ground vehicles for transportation or combat, he said. Commercial applications, including “long-haul cargo,” possibly with lighter-than-air craft, are “not far behind,” he said. For civil applications, Vice said the “next big step” is establishing “UAS flight test centers” so industry can develop new applications and the FAA can vet them as safe to use in populated areas.