HC 772 Defence CommitteeWritten evidence from Northrop Grumman Corporation (NGC)

Executive Summary

1. This submission records the views and experience of Northrop Grumman Corporation (NGC) and references, where appropriate, the prior Northrop Grumman submission made to the Defence Select Committee’s inquiry into the Contribution of ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) to Operations dated 19 May 2009.

2. The following evidence is derived from 70 years of leadership in this field, including delivery of more than 100,000 unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). This has culminated in today’s next generation fully autonomous unmanned aircraft that have demonstrated flight at all altitude regimes, can stay on station for more 40 hours, successfully land and takeoff again from moving vessels at sea, and operate safely in national airspace with airworthiness certification. Northrop Grumman only manufactures fully autonomous UAS and draws a distinction between UAS and Remotely Piloted Air Systems or RPAS. Northrop Grumman UAS have a pilot-in-command at all times with an on-board and pre-programmed (but real-time changeable) computer flying the aircraft. RPAS are remotely piloted through a communication link to a ground based pilot responsible for aircraft control (altitude, heading and airspeed) in addition to mission accomplishment. Northrop Grumman refers to UAS and not RPAS in the remainder of this submission.

3. Northrop Grumman has produced, sold and operated more UAS, than any other company in the world. We offer systems and capabilities in all domains including undersea, over land, in air and in space. Advances in UAS technology have enabled them to perform multiple missions, from the traditional defence and security applications to assisting humanitarian operations. In addition to the support of coalition forces deployed to Afghanistan Iraq, Libya and other locales, Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk UAS have provided non-military disaster assistance by keeping under surveillance devastated areas in Japan following the tsunami, in Haiti after the earthquake, and in support of firefighting efforts in the California fires of 2007. Additionally, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) uses Global Hawk purely for scientific research, over land, in the arctic and over the blue water oceans of the world. Further, other Northrop Grumman-built UAS have also tracked suspected pirates, have watched over stranded fishermen, and have supported coalition forces at a tactical level by providing ISR capability in remote parts of the world. While Northrop Grumman is a current leader in UAS we have always been at the forefront of UAS innovation. Our research efforts in autonomy include cooperative engagement across a family of systems including mission scenarios that pair unmanned systems with manned or unmanned systems. Additionally, we are building the first common mission management system and architecture that has the ability to control multiple types of UAS from a single ground station.

4. The UK faces a contemporary security environment with diverse challenges, ranging from coalition/non-coalition operations, activities in the Falkland Islands and domestic security and maritime domain awareness, to fisheries enforcement and humanitarian assistance. A common factor in confronting these challenges is the need for accurate, time sensitive and persistent situational awareness. Commanders gain this awareness from a layered intelligence/ISR network that monitors both wide and tactical areas while concurrently extracting detailed, target quality information. Global Hawk (Triton), with its ability to provide overall situational awareness and to cross-cue other platforms to collect or take action can provide real-time intelligence that can save lives. Fielding an optimally constituted UAS fleet allows for missions to meet the defined requirements without putting people into harm’s way. Northrop Grumman UAS Global Hawk (Triton), Fire Scout, Firebird and BAT have been in operation with multiple users for a number of years. The Global Hawk (Triton) system just passed the 100,000 flight hours mark while Fire Scout has accumulated more than 10,000 flight hours in support of ships at sea and coalition forces ashore. These systems are highly reliable and, as US programmes of record, could be leveraged by the UK investigating future UAS operations.

Nomenclature (RPAS, UAS and “Drone”)

“What do we mean when we talk about Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS), Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and associated terms?”

RPAS stands for Remotely Piloted Aircraft System.

UAS stands for Unmanned Aircraft System.

“Drone” is a colloquial term used by the media that is inexact in its description.

We believe that UAS are different from RPAS and are much more than an aircraft, much more than a vehicle. They require advanced sensors and communications; they require ground control stations (or ship-board stations) and; intelligent exploitation dissemination systems.


RPAS are aircraft, such as medium-altitude long endurance (MALE) unmanned aircraft that are flown with a remote aircraft control stick by a ground based pilot-in-control through a direct link to the aircraft.

UAS are autonomous aircraft, flown by an on-board computer but controlled by a pilot from a ground station. These can fly routes that are entirely pre-programmed or a route that is entirely “ad-hoc” as changed by the pilot-in-command. Autonomy separates command and control. Autonomy allows the aircraft to control itself, leaving the pilot free to command the aircraft and the mission.

The large UAS are all controlled by a qualified and certified pilot who commands the aircraft from the ground (or the ship) much as the pilot of a Tornado controls the aircraft from the cockpit. Given the types of missions typically performed by UAS (surveillance, reconnaissance and similar long duration, dwell intensive missions) the flight can be completely pre-programmed or changed en-route through ad-hoc collection or manoeuvering. Executing an entire mission with a computer flown (pilot commanded) aircraft nearly eliminates pilot-induced flight control mishaps. For example, the RQ-4 Global Hawk flight control computer generates hundreds of flight control inputs per second—all in response to actual flight conditions in order to ensure the aircraft meets desired fight parameters, while a pilot, in an advanced fighter cockpit, can only change inputs at best, once every two seconds.

Current Utility

“For what purposes are RPAS used currently?”

5. UAS can and perform a number of missions today, depending on the payload. Some of these uses include:

1.Surveillance of wide areas:

Signals intelligence (SIGINT).

Image intelligence (IMINT).

Maritime domain awareness.

Ground, air and sea moving target intelligence.

2.Reconnaissance of designated areas:

Precision targeting and strike.

Full motion video, spot reconnaissance.

Situational awareness of friendly forces.


On-board platforms for collection of scientific data.

Surveillance of arctic ice fields.

Study and surveillance of weather patterns and hurricanes.

Study of atmospheric gasses and other phenomena.


Post disaster situational awareness for tsunami, earthquake and fire disasters.

Location of survivors.

Search-and-rescue operations over vast swaths of blue ocean.

5.Wide area communications relay:

Relay and data translations.

6. In a similar manner, UAS offer the same capabilities of endurance, technology-for-manpower, reduced costs and risks when the warfighter engages in Irregular Warfare, from stability operations to counter-insurgency and counter-terror campaigns. While Irregular Warfare often is viewed as a manpower-intensive activity, UAS can balance the mission-risk ratio in selective areas, such as surveillance, reconnaissance and high risk functions, like counter-IED, combat rescue or mine-clearing. At the same time, UAS can make the entire force better by extending the reach of the commander and the ISR network with communications relays that link the force in real time.

“What RPAS capabilities do the UK military and intelligence communities currently possess or operate?”

According to the House of Commons Library Standard Note on UAVs entitled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones): an introduction the UK currently operates 330 RPAS in Afghanistan.1

Remotely Piloted Air System

Number of Remotely
Piloted Aircraft



Hermes 450


Desert Hawk III


Black Hornet


Tarantula Hawk




“What governance and oversight arrangements are in place for the use of RPAS in the UK and overseas?”

7. All military remotely piloted aircraft (UAS) are treated as UK military aircraft and subject to the same regulations as military aircraft. Full guidance on the use of UAS is contained in the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) publication CAP 722-Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in UK Airspace.

(a)The following excerpts of CAP 722 were copied from http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/CAP722.pdf

1.1 CAP 722, “Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in UK Airspace—Guidance”, is compiled by the Civil Aviation Authority’s Flight Operations Policy Department (FOP). It is intended to assist those who are involved in the development of UAS to identify the route to certification, in order to ensure that the required standards and practices are met by all UAS operators.

1.2 Overall, the purpose of the document is to highlight the safety requirements that have to be met, in terms of airworthiness and operational standards, before a UAS is allowed to operate in the UK. Whilst UAS flights beyond the limits of visual control (defined herein) are currently restricted to segregated airspace, the ultimate aim is to develop a regulatory framework which will enable the full integration of UAS activities with manned aircraft operations throughout UK airspace.

1.3 In advance of changes to this document, updated information is contained on the CAA website at www.caa.co.uk/uas

3.1 UAS operators who wish to cross an international FIR/UIR boundary to another country must comply with the Regulatory and ATM procedures applicable to the territory over which the UAS is flown, which may differ from UK regulations. While DAP will provide guidance on cross border ATC procedures, guidance on foreign national procedures should be sought from the appropriate State National Aviation Authority (NAA)/MoD.

“What lessons have been learnt from RPAS operations in Afghanistan, and elsewhere (including present and planned weapons), and how will this enable the future development of doctrine on their use?”

8. We would reference Northrop Grumman’s prior evidence submitted the Defence Committee for the inquiry into the Contribution of ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) to Operations announced on 19 May 2009.

“How dependent is the UK RPAS programme on technology, training and operational support from the USA?”

9. UK RPAS programmes are not dependent on technology, training and operational support from the USA. Instead, the UK should take advantage of the relationship that exists between US and UK armed forces to leverage capability that has been developed by the US Government and US industry under contract to the US Government. Equipment development, capability, CONOPS, sustainment theories, and operational insights should all be available for export and, where applicable and appropriate, collaborative discussion between the two countries.

Tomorrow’s Potential

“What additional capabilities will the UK seek to develop from now to 2020?”

10. UAS offer great potential to contribute to missions performed by the UK Armed Forces and non-military government agencies in a more effective manner, at a much lower cost. Some missions can provide a broad spectrum of ISR collection capability to support joint combatant forces in worldwide peacetime, contingency and wartime operations. Additionally, many missions that have traditionally been under the exclusive purview of manned assets should be considered for assumption by UASs. These include Anti-Submarine Warfare, Mine Warfare, Surface Warfare, Search and Rescue, Electronic Warfare, AEW&C and a multitude of other missions. The systems can also be used for various civil or commercial missions such as border patrol, port surveillance, hurricane monitoring, disaster relief support, and high/low-altitude scientific research.

11. UAS complement manned and space reconnaissance systems by providing near-real-time coverage using radar, imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors, signals intelligence (SIGINT), and communications relay capability.

Other Missions

(a)Missile Defence:

(i)Ballistic missile defence with a long endurance sensor to detect missile launch over –the-horizon from UK Forces.

(ii)Wide area air and cruise missile surveillance.

(iii)Augment wide area moving target intelligence surveillance with active, integrated signals intelligence—providing farther range cover with faster target identification.

(b)Offensive and Defensive capabilities:

(i)Long endurance electronic attack of hostile air, maritime and ground systems.

(ii)Extremely long range precision strike.

(iii)Suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD).

(c)Air-to-air refueling for manned and UAS aircraft.

(d)Localized, ad hoc precision, navigation and timing networks to augment or replace space-based GPS systems.

(e)Raids, Assaults and Power Projection:

(i)Tomahawk and manned aircraft.

(ii)Special Forces.

(iii)Non-combatant evacuation.

(f)Maritime Intercept Operations:

(i)Monitor and interdict WMD.

(ii)Monitor and interdict terrorists, supplies and finances.

(iii)Anti-piracy operations.

(iv)Maritime domain awareness.

(v)Anti-submarine warfare surveillance and reconnaissance support.

(vi)Port security operations.

(vii)Close cooperation with coast guard/search and rescue.

(viii)Prevention of terror attacks.

(ix)Riverine operations.

(x)Secure key infrastructure.

(xi)Patrol and prevent hostile forces use of waterways.

(g)Support Land Operations:

(i)Raids and assaults.

(ii)Teaming and layer of forces.

“What current and prospective partnership working on RPAS is the UK engaged in?”

“What governance and oversight arrangements are in place for such programmes?”

“What are the associated costs?”

12. Teaming of manned aircraft and UAS or “layering of forces” can yield substantial gains in both mission effectiveness and cost efficiencies. For example, a typical Joint Task Force anti-piracy mission might include 20 ships, a maritime patrol aircraft squadron and maritime helicopters. Personnel in this task force number approximately 7,000. The area that this current task force can cover is roughly 100,000 nm2. The flight operation and support and personnel costs for this force are more than £5M/day and £1M/day respectively. By creating a future force that reduces manned ships by 65%, integrates UAS (eg three MQ-4C Global Hawk/Tritons and seven MQ-8C Fire Scout UAS) plus five to seven maritime helicopters and with no manned maritime patrol aircraft, the mission effectiveness and cost efficiencies change is dramatic. The future integrated task force can:

Can cover 480,000nm2, 81% more than the current task force.

Only needs seven ships, a 65% reduction in ships required in the Task Force.

Only needs 2,400 Sailors, a 65% reduction.

Flight O&S/day cost reduced to £1 million, a 76% reduction.

Personnel costs/day can be reduced by 66% (see charts attached).

Approved for Public Release, Office of Security Review 09-S-2433; 15 July 2009

Approved for Public Release, Office of Security Review 09-S-2433; 15 July 2009


“What constraints exist on the use of RPAS in the UK and overseas?”

“What air worthiness and certification requirements apply?”

“What restrictions apply to insertion into civil airspace?”

13. The primary consideration for flying UAS in UK and international airspace is ensuring de-confliction from other aircraft. Originally, pilots relied on “see and avoid” techniques to avoid a mid-air collision. With the advent of jet aircraft, radar and procedural control have become the dominant means to de-conflict aircraft. Modern commercial aircraft also incorporate on-board sensors, such as a Traffic Collision Avoidance System, to provide safe separation from other aircraft.

14. Currently procedural and/or radar control provides safe separation for UAS with other aircraft. More sophisticated “sense and avoid” on-board systems are under development and will allow for far greater integration within UK and international airspace.

Ethical and Legal Issues

“What governance and accountability arrangements are in place for UK operated RPAS?”

15. UAS do not present truly unique ethical or legal issues when employed in combat. Whether the pilot is in the cockpit or on the ground, the pilot must rely on the same cues and follow the same rules of engagement and international law. Unarmed UAS are flown in accordance with established national and international rules.


The current state of sophisticated next-generation UAS allow for total ground control of the UAS at all times while negating any opportunity that pilots may have to make flight control errors leading to mishaps. Further, the future state of the technology will allow for increasing capabilities to execute missions where it makes little sense to send a pilot into harm’s way.

State-of-the-art UAS technology provides autonomous operations that separates the control of flight of the aircraft from the control/command of the mission by the aircraft commander. The aircraft commander retains control of the mission, and all rules of engagement requiring human assessment and decision making remain supported. Autonomous flight control allows the commander to focus on the key decision elements rather than flight management so mission decisions are less prone to error due to distraction. Continued development of autonomous control and enhanced communications will allow for much more complex and dangerous missions to be executed without loss of a human aircrew.

September 2013

1 HL Deb 30 October 2012 cWA116

Prepared 24th March 2014