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Northrop Grumman’s New Pitch: Affordability

Sep. 11, 2012 - 04:30PM   |  
By WILLIAM MATTHEWS   |   Comments
SABR is an active electronically scanned array radar designed specifically for the F-16.
SABR is an active electronically scanned array radar designed specifically for the F-16. (Northrop Grumman)
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Faced with a tightening U.S. military budget, officials from Northrop Grumman’s Advanced Concepts and Technologies Division came to Washington in September to underscore a new sales pitch: affordability.

Patrick Antkowiak, vice president of the advanced concepts and technologies division, said Northrop’s efforts to develop new radar technology will rely on “open architecture combined with open innovation” to produce cost-effective new systems for “insertion into new and legacy platforms.”

One result, Antkowiak said at a conference, is that some radar components designed for Air Force’s newest F-35 and F-22 stealth fighters will also be adapted to boost the radar capabilities of decades-old, non-stealthy planes like Air Force F-16s and F-15s or the Navy’s F/A-18s.

Non-Northrop components may be integrated with Northrop’s own, he said, to produce advanced radars for a variety of platforms.

The company’s new business plan comes as the Defense Department readies $45 billion in cuts to the 2013 budget, and another $54.7 billion if budget sequestration kicks in Jan. 2.

So Northrop says it knows the Pentagon contracting officials will be looking for bargains.

“We want the Department of Defense to get their buying power back,” Antkowiak said. “And what we want to do is to give them the keys to get that buying power back by having the right architecture and the right business model.”

Northrop is particularly interested in promoting its active electronically scanned array AESA radars, which can allow ships and planes to scan for threats while still remaining stealthy.

“We’ve done more and had more proven and affordable AESA solutions than anyone else,” Antkowiak said.

Northrop announced Sept. 11 that it received a $34.7 million contract from the Air Force to demonstrate a three-dimensional long-range radar for detecting airborne threats. The system, based on AESA technology, would be ground-based.

Earlier, the company said it has completed initial range testing of a next-generation air and missile defense radar for Navy destroyers and future ships.

The company has also designed an AESA radar for the F-16. It’s the Scalable Agile Beam Radar, or SABR.

The big opportunity is the effort to retrofit older planes with the modern day radar packages. But Antkowiak said the company is eyeing F-15s, F/A-18s and other older aircraft. There’s a good reason for that, since there will be little money for the services to buy new aircraft. Northrop aims to produce new radars that will fit into older planes without requiring changes to the aircraft, Antkowiak said, by developing new components that fit into the same space as the old ones they would replace. And in some cases, they weigh less and require less power, but perform better, he said.

The other key to lower prices and maintaining Pentagon interests, Northrop believes, is “open architecture and open innovation” — meaning it is seeking software and hardware improvements developed by researchers and companies outside of Northrop.

Antkowiak said it’s already happened. He said the military and intelligence communities have already deployed some Northrop radar systems integrate non-Northrop technology. He offered no details, saying that the systems are classified.

Northrop may be positioning itself to become “a kind of integrator par excellence” that is better able to challenge competitors that produce proprietary systems, said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a military think tank in Arlington, Va.

“If they’re going to be agnostic about where [hardware and software] comes from” Northrop may be able to offer the best deals and the most modern technology, he said. In the current budget environment, “it’s all going to be about upgrades and modifications — and lower costs,” Goure said.

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