How Northrop Grumman Is Planning To Grow Internationally

Northrop Grumman CEO Kathy Warden.
Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

LONDON—Northrop Grumman, recently known for niche high-end aircraft and space systems, is looking to increase its presence in Europe through adaptive approaches to how it develops new weapons programs by taking on more of a local flair.

While the company’s biggest work at the moment is large, expensive programs for the U.S. such as the B-21 bomber and the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, CEO Kathy Warden, in an interview with Aviation Week, points to a software-based effort as key to how the company wants to adjust. And the adjustment is needed as more nations are looking to build their own industrial base instead of simply buying American.

“We have European operations, and those are always our front into countries in Europe to ensure that we are able to offer them sovereign capability,” Warden says. “We have local workforces in the countries where we don’t—we partner to build that industrial base capacity that shows local content—but there is obviously reach-back into assets in the U.S. so that we can bring forward products that are more mature and sell those as well. That model is less favorable today as it was in the past.”

An example of how the company wants to adjust is the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System—a complex network integration of sensors, software and computer hardware developed for the U.S. Army to create one command-and-control system for air and missile defense.

“At its core, it is a set of hardware and software that is an architecture that can be replicated in other countries, that connects their inherent capabilities,” Warden says. “So if they have their own sensors, their own kinetic effectors, you don’t take what the U.S. uses, you integrate theirs. And at the core, what we’re bringing to them is the software and the architecture. That means there’s a lot of local contact in the software development and in the integration of assets that the country already owns. And that model is, in my view, more of what the future looks like.”

This “hybrid” would take investment in a product already made by another nation—the U.S. for the IBCS example—but then allow another nation to integrate its native systems, Warden says. The IBCS has already been picked up by Poland, and Northrop is in talks to sell it to Australia, Japan and the UK, she says.

For aircraft, this would follow the broader trend of the open systems architecture that is being engineered into modern production aircraft, including Northrop’s B-21. This model keeps the hardware largely the same throughout the aircraft’s life, but leaves it open for quickly updating software, sensors and other mission systems from multiple vendors.

“The platform itself won’t change, probably for decades, but the software itself can change very rapidly, whether that’s the sensors, the vehicle management system, communications, and I see that being the future for hardware-based systems,” Warden says. “That the platform will have stability, but the innards, if you will, of the system will be able to be modernized quite rapidly.”

The biggest growth area Northrop sees abroad is in space, with budgets rising in this domain more than others.

“That’s primarily because there is a recognition of what can be accomplished in the space domain and, maybe even more importantly, that space up until five or six years ago was viewed as an uncontested domain, one in which a nation could operate freely, wasn’t as congested as it is today,” Warden says. “So [there are] lots of new dynamics in terms of how one operates effectively from space and supporting military superiority.”

While some nations are shifting more of their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions to space, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused a surge of ISR aircraft to the region and that has emphasized the need for this type of aircraft, says Tom Jones, Northrop’s vice president of aeronautics systems.

“There is and will continue to be a need for persistent, regionalized ISR and command and control,” Jones says, pointing to the company’s RQ-4 Global Hawks, E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes and MQ-8 Fire Scouts as relevant aircraft.

“I think that gives the opportunity for a lot of the other countries who will now build up to the ISR and command and control that we think is going to be critical as we continue to monitor the eastern reaches of NATO,” Jones says.

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.