My partners up here have done a great job in talking about a number of things that are being done today in Northrop Grumman, literally around the world, and capabilities that allow us to be successful. I’m going to talk a little bit more specifically about some platforms that are in operation around the world. And all three of them happen to be unmanned. But they’re representative of some other things.
Regardless of platforms, lifecycle stage whether it’s a manned strike bomber like the B-2 to an unmanned rotary wing airplane like the Fire Scout that’s flying off Navy ships today, we’ve got a bunch of stuff that’s relevant, in demand, and operating at a pretty high tempo.
One of the things that allows that to happen is we really pay a lot of attention during the design and the development of those, not just in how fast they’ll go and how high they’ll fly and all those other things that are important, but how they’re going to be maintained. How that young service member in the field is going to fix them when they inevitably break. Because everything eventually breaks.
JP did a really good job about talking about a support structure in our IT that’s enhancing not only the affordability, which is important, but it’s about how do you take all this data that’s being created during the design and development, and then move it around and get it to people in the amount they need when they need it. And a young soldier in the field might desperately need only a picture of what he needs to fix, and like Joe said, where his part is, to that engineer that’s trying to make this system last for 25 years that needs a very rich data environment to be able to design the modernization that will keep it going both operating and make it relevant in the environment it’s in.
So if I could sum that up in any way, we’re really committed to putting in place early in a program’s life across all of our DOD and international partners, a way to drive that operating cost down so that they don’t have to make that choice of sustaining the current operation they’ve got, or buying the program that they need. We want them to be able to do both.
So a couple of examples of some things that are out there doing that today. And I’ll start with the Hunter. Hunter is an unmanned vehicle, you don’t hear a lot about. It’s been in operation with the Army now for going on 20 years, about 18 years. It really provides a state-of-the-art reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and communications relay and some weapons delivery. And just earlier this year went over 100,000 play hours. Again, a system you don’t hear a lot about, but it’s been almost continuously involved wherever the U.S. has been in combat since 1999, Kosovo, Iraq and in Afghanistan today.
And it isn’t the same vehicle that was flying when it first started out in the mid-nineties. It’s been a continuous series of upgrades and modernizations that have allowed it to be out there. And it’s fielded today to a hundred Army units, and there’s probably close to 4,000 people that are using it. And the plan is for the Army to use it for probably another five to eight years and continue to put the kind of capabilities and upgrades in it that will allow it to be relevant on the battlefield.
That’s I think a good story of a system that if you go out and pull the Army’s data, it’s probably operating in the high 90% availability. So been out there for awhile. It’s been continuously modernized and upgraded. And it operates in a way that really answers a customer’s need at a cost that allows them to continue to go.
I’ll go kind of the other end of the spectrum and talk about Global Hawk. You’ve heard a lot of things about Global Hawk in the news over the years. It’s an Air Force program. There’s 42 of them around the world right now. About 32 of them in the Air Force inventory and they’re looking at buying the last three out of the program here coming up shortly.
It’s gone over 110,000 flight hours. It’s got a lot of first’s that you’ve read about different places, first unmanned aircraft to fly across the Pacific, as an example. It’s been used in combat operations, but also in a lot of humanitarian operations from wildfires in California to response to earthquake in Haiti. Recently after the earthquake and Tsunami in Japan a lot of missions, particularly around the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. So it’s something that it’s got a lot of capability, but it’s really something that has come into its own over the last several years.
And as an example, the Air Force has an award called The Dr. James Roche Sustainment Award. It’s handed out every year to a set of criteria that the Air Force decides on. It’s a very prestigious award to win. Global Hawk won that award in 2012. And in the first time ever then repeated in 2013. So it’s being recognized by the people that are operating it and sustaining it as a platform that is, literally, record setting.
In the year 2013, it was recognized by the Air Force as the safest platform in the Air Force inventory. So what it really is doing is, it’s providing that intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. It’s doing it at a cost-per-flying-hour that continues to go down. It’s being recognized as being, in terms of sustainment and safety, the top platform in the Air Force. And it’s really done it at a time when the demand for those sort of things is going up, and the budget that’s available for those sort of things is flat, or maybe even going down a little bit.
So it’s a platform that is in the prime of its life. Hunter is one that’s – I’d say it’s middle aged. Global Hawks’ is in its prime. And then I’ll talk about a third one which is Fire Scout. And Fire Scout is a rotary wing unmanned aircraft flying off Navy ships today. There’s 19 under contract with the Navy. There’s five more MQ-8C’s presently on order from the Navy. They’ve been deployed, not only on ships but into places like Afghanistan and Africa for ISR.
They’re really another platform that allows a commander to extend the reach, taking advantage of the endurance that comes with not having an operator physically in the airplane. Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t operators associated with the airplane, but they’re out there and you don’t have to bring it back, because the endurance of the pilot that’s in there, is not matched up with the endurance of the machine.
One of the real things about the affordability and the reliability of this particular system is, it was based on a commercial helicopter, two different variants. The first variant, the MQ-8B was a Schweitzer 333 helicopter. It had a million hours on it as a commercial helicopter. Northrop Grumman took it, unmanned it, and adapted it for Navy use. And it is being used today on frigates, deployed. And later this year it will do another first when it deploys on board the Littoral combat ship as the Navy takes that capability into the Pacific.
The second variant of it, the MQ-8C, is a bigger, faster, carry-more payload helicopter, the Bell 407. I think the point I’d leave you with is that is what we really were able to do was find two reliable, already well-tested and proven systems in those helicopters worldwide support and supply system, take advantage of that and adapt it to the use for our Navy customer to give them the thing that they were looking for at a price that they will be able to afford, to not have to make that Hobson’s choice of buy the program, or operate and sustain the ones we’ve got. We think we can do both.