MELBOURNE, Australia, and WASHINGTON — A senior Northrop Grumman executive has forecast that the company’s footprint in Australia is set to double over the next three years, as it ramps up a major regional F-35 component repair and overhaul center and seeks further Australian Defence Force contracts.

Speaking at the company’s information systems headquarters in McLean, Virginia, Chief Executive of Northrop Grumman Australia Ian Irving said the company sees significant near-term opportunities in a number of major Australian defense acquisition projects, which are expected to progress this year. 

"This is going to be a tremendous year for us; it really is the year for Australia. There are five major projects in which we are likely to participate in the first eight months of the year, in addition to assisting the commonwealth with their Triton cooperation program with the US Navy," Irving said. "We should also be in a position to sign two big, new contracts by the end of the year as well."

The programs are the Defence Enterprise Resource Plan (ERP); Defence ISR Integration Backbone (DIIP, Joint Project (JP) 2096); Core Simulation Capability (CSimC, JP9711); Ground-Based Air and Missile Defence (Land 19 Phase 7B); Joint Battle Management System (Air 6500); and the already-announced acquisition of at least seven MQ-4C Triton unmanned maritime surveillance platforms (Air 7000 Phase 1B).

The 2016 Australian Defence White Paper forecast the acquisition of Triton around the turn of the decade. Australia is also seeking to partner with the US Navy on the development of the Triton Multi-INT version, which is due to enter service in 2021.

The company is also targeting other Australian defence projects, such as a vertical take-off and landing UAV for the Navy's new frigates and offshore patrol vessels (Sea 129), as well as, further into the future, an upgrade to the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) new EA-18G Growler fleet under Air 5349 Phase 6 (Advanced Growler).

Irving said the Northrop Grumman footprint in Australia has grown from five people to about 500 over the last four years, largely through the acquisitions of network security company M5 and aviation services provider Qantas Defence Services.

However, he said he sees continued growth across the company's portfolio in Australia. And with the ramp up of F-35 work, he predicts the workforce will double in size by 2020.

Last year, Northrop Grumman Australia reported a turnover of AUD $214.4 million (US $162.3 million).

In November 2016, the US F-35 Joint Program Office announced a series of contracts with Australian industry for F-35 sustainment, including a significant amount of maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade work. Northrop Grumman Australia will set up a new facility on Australia's east coast to overhaul and repair electronic F-35 components from operators in the Asia-Pacific region.

Irving said the company was looking to establish the new center either at RAAF Base Williamtown, which will be home to the majority of Australia's 71 F-35As on order, or in "the Greater Western Sydney" region. The company already has a footprint at RAAF Base Richmond, west of Sydney, where it performs C-130H Hercules contract work.

He said the center will also facilitate the process of bringing work currently performed in the United States back to Australia.

"We'd like to establish the new facility as the nucleus of what would be a broader electronics repair capability within Australia," he said. "There are a lot of products that we have supplied over the last 20 years which are being maintained back here in the United States and which we'd like to localize in Australia.

"We are looking at not just accessing our portfolio here in North America for Australia's requirements, but building an Australian Industry Capability. Both within Northrop Grumman Australia and also our supply chain partners."

Northrop Grumman's corporate spokesperson, Randy Belote, said the company was also looking to use the Australian expansion to seek other opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region.

"Australia is important to us in Northrop Grumman, but also to the United States," he said. "We have a partnership and we're committed fully to working closely together in developing those capabilities in-country that we know are important not only to us, but to Australia and to that region, because we really do see Australia as a jumping-off point for a lot of activities in that part of the world."

Nigel Pittaway is the Australia correspondent for Defense News.

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