Northrop Grumman plans to more than double production capacity for the RQ-4 Global Hawk and MQ-4C Triton unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) to 12 aircraft per year in anticipation of growing demand for the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform.

The manufacturer is adding production capacity to its Site 7 facilities in Palmdale, California. It will start production out of a recently remodeled building the week of 26 August, the company told FlightGlobal on a tour of the facilities on 20 August. The building is on the grounds of United States Air Force Plant 42 and was previously a manufacturing facility for the Northrop F-5 fighter.

Northrop Grumman has lined up six customers for variants of its high altitude long endurance UAV: The US Navy (USN), US Air Force (USAF), NATO, South Korea, Japan and the Royal Australian Air Force. It declines to identify other prospective customers in its sales pipeline.

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Northrop Grumman MQ-4C landing

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The company previously produced between three to five RQ-4 Global Hawk or MQ-4C Triton aircraft per year. Typically it takes 162 to 174 days to build the UAV: 150 days to build the fuselage in Moss Point, Mississippi and 12 to 24 days for final assembly in Palmdale, the firm says.

The addition of the building at Site 7 is part of a larger investment by Northrop Grumman in capacity at its Palmdale facilities. Several other large buildings have gone up around Plant 42 in recent years for military programs that the company declines to discuss. The company also declines to say how much it has invested or how many additional personnel have been hired to work at the site.

“This is probably one of the largest single investments I’ve seen in 20 years,” says Doug Shaffer, vice -president and programme manager of the Global Hawk and Triton.

Some of the facilities are to support production of the USAF’s top-secret B-21 Raider stealth bomber. Major General James Dawkins, who was visiting Northrop Grumman’s facilities for a B-2 Spirit bomber first flight anniversary on 20 August, said that the service is pleased with Northrop Grumman’s work on the B-21, which is scheduled to fly for the first time by December 2021.

“Everything I hear is that cost, schedule and performance is right on expectations,” he says.

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