Northrop Grumman Corp. is betting the introduction of high-altitude surveillance drones within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will help trigger orders for dozens of such aircraft from European armed forces.
Norway, the U.K. and Germany are the most likely European customers in the medium term, said Andrew Tyler, chief executive for Northrop Grumman in Europe. A few dozen aircraft could be sold to Europe over the next 15 years if things go well, he said.
NATO is buying five aircraft under the Alliance Ground Surveillance program that also includes ground and other equipment. The drones, based on the U.S. Global Hawk, are due for delivery in 2017 under a $1.7 billion contract placed in 2012. The drones, with a wingspan greater than a Boeing 737 jetliner, will be based at Sigonella air base in Sicily, from which the U.S. Air Force already operates its own Global Hawks. . . .
The NATO project, which originally involved a mix of manned planes and drones, was repeatedly curtailed before the alliance settled on buying only 5 unmanned aircraft. Poland and Denmark dropped out, though both have since rejoined, [Northrop Grumman’s AGS program director Matt] Copija said. . . .
Military aircraft typically fly separated from commercial air traffic in so-called segregated airspace while regulators determine how to integrate operations. The U.S. Global Hawks currently flying out of Sicily climb to higher than 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) in a narrow area over the air base before flying in Europe well above commercial planes.