SAN DIEGO, July 12, 2004 (PRIMEZONE) -- A U.S. Army unmanned aerial reconnaissance system supporting the war on terrorism recently achieved a significant operational milestone by reaching the 30,000 total flight-hours mark.

The achievement by the service's fleet of Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC) -developed RQ-5 Hunter unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) reflects the expanding role that UAVs are playing in U.S. and allied combat operations. The first Hunter UAV flight occurred in 1990.

The Alpha Company of the Army's V Corps' 1st Military Intelligence Battalion reached the 30,000 hour mark on June 23 at the end of an operational reconnaissance mission in Iraq. To date, the Hunter fleet has flown more than a third of its total hours - about 11,500 - in combat missions in the Balkans and Iraq.

The Hunter system allows commanders to look deep into enemy territory by collecting reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition information, then relaying it to ground control and mission monitoring stations. Hunter UAVs are currently fielded to three Army Corps supporting the war on terrorism. They are expected to remain in service well into the next decade.

"Hunter serves as the Army's principal workhorse for tactical reconnaissance at a time when UAVs have emerged as a critical element in the current theater of operations," said Christopher Hernandez, vice president of Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems unit in San Diego, a part of the company's Integrated Systems sector. "Reaching the 30,000 hour milestone under combat conditions speaks volumes to the system's overall mission utility and reliability."

Hernandez credits much of Hunter's operational success to the comprehensive test program and rigorous training missions that Northrop Grumman conducts with the Army in the U.S. "This disciplined training process helps us improve and evolve the Hunter system to ensure that it will meet the warfighters' needs well beyond its next 30,000 flight hours," he said.

In recent years, Northrop Grumman has made several improvements to Hunter to reduce its life cycle costs and improve its performance. The company is currently replacing the UAV's gasoline engine, for example, with a heavy fuel engine that will increase the system's flight performance, improve its reliability, and simplify battlefield logistics.

The first test flight using this heavy fuel engine was conducted on Dec. 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first powered flight. Since then, the company has conducted more than 35 test flights to confirm design improvements and resulting improvements in UAV performance.

Northrop Grumman is also modifying Hunter's autopilot, avionics, and communication subsystems to eliminate obsolescence and improve operational readiness.

In 2002, the company modified and extended Hunter's wing, a change that improved flight performance and enabled the system to carry weapons. System improvements will ensure Hunter's transformational role as the interim Extended Range Multipurpose UAV, the Army's next-generation tactical UAV program.

Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems is a premier aerospace and defense systems integration organization. Headquartered in El Segundo, Calif., it designs, develops, produces and supports integrated systems and subsystems optimized for use on government networks. For its government and civil customers worldwide, Integrated Systems delivers best-value solutions, products and services that support military and homeland defense missions in the areas of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; space access; battle management command and control; and integrated strike warfare.

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