Northrop Grumman’s [NOC] global logistics and sustainment efforts include modernization to offer innovative, affordable solutions to U.S. and allied customers, while providing high performance and readiness, company officials said.

Northrop Grumman’s previous work in logistics, sustainment and training “allows us to go well beyond operational readiness” work, Gregory Schmidt, vice president and general manager, Mission Solutions and Readiness division, Northrop Grumman Technical Services said at a briefing last week. Considering that 70 percent of military system costs are in sustaining and modernizing a system over its life cycle, Northrop Grumman looks to leverage what it has learned for modernization and upgrades.

For example, the company has provided logistics support for the past 14 years at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., and also supports Fort Polk, La.,’s Joint Readiness Training Center.

“We try to take all this knowledge gained” to innovate for customers, Schmidt said. For example, at Fort Irwin, they’ve just started to deploy the Ready Blue mobile app–a program that provides real-time analysis of fleet readiness, aircraft readiness and mission capability rates.

Additionally, a brand new training network has been put in at Fort Irwin and Fort Polk. It is an advanced cellular network that provides real-time voice, data and video to improve situational awareness for those in a major training exercise.

Northrop Grumman also is looking at modernizing the Humvee to buy back performance. Adding armor to protect troops greatly reduced mileage, required more trucks, therefore fuel convoys, and strained the original chassis. The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) took over much of the work Humvees were doing.

“We believe that the Humvee will again have a role for us for at least the next 25 years,” Schmidt said. Northrop Grumman’s solution is to provide a new chassis to allow the Humvee to regain its original performance and payload capability while maintaining its armor protection. Four vehicles have been upgraded and some are being tested.

Internationally, for the past 40 years, Northrop Grumman has been working in Saudi Arabia. With the Ministry of the National Guard it has been providing training, logistics and operational support.

In the past two years, the Saudi Arabian Joint Venture LLC, owned by Arab Builders for Trading and Northrop Grumman, has expanded into rotary-wing work, supporting 12 MD-530 helicopters as they are delivered, and a training brigade established in May 2013.

In the last 18 months, there have been more than 2,000 flights and an accumulated 4,000 flight hours with zero safety incidents while keeping operational readiness above 90 percent, Schmidt said. Additionally, they have trained 25 pilots and 23 instructor pilots for the MD-530.

Comprehensive airfield operational support begins Jan. 1, 2015, he said, as the first aviation brigade stands up. That brigade will have 12 AH-64 Apache helicopters and 24 MH-6 Little Birds, both produced by Boeing [BA], and 24 UH-60 Black Hawks produced by Sikorsky [UTX].

Jeffrey Palombo, vice president and general manager, Land and Self Protection Systems division, Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, said, “In a world of few new starts…the importance of upgrades and enhancements becomes more and more relevant as we look at the platforms that are out there.”

Northrop Grumman wants mature technology available now that can be quickly fielded. This reduces engineering costs up front, he said. “The design of a new capability and how it gets integrated is just as important as the capability itself,” Palombo said. “It requires innovation (which is) key to affordable modernization.”

Modifications must be affordable, since some changes could be expensive enough to preclude an upgrade.

Over the last several years there hasn’t been much investment in electronic warfare by the Defense Department or globally, he said. Meanwhile, threats are evolving and can be less expensive than the cost of protecting an aircraft. “We have a lot of catching up to do.”

For example, the Northrop Grumman AN/APR-39D(V)2 radar warning receiver has been on helicopters and aircraft for years as part of survivability equipment, Palombo said. Northrop Grumman looked at the capability they had to create a new digital radar warning receiver and backfit it into same “real estate” on a helicopter or airplane.

“We drew on a suite that’s very mature; repurposed and repackaged it for the helicopter market,” he said. Dealing with mature systems does keep down the initial cost of non-recurring engineering, which is important to the United States and its allies.

“When we do things like this, modernization through logistics and sustainment, we’re generally talking about innovation rather than invention,” Palombo said.

The AN/APR-39 D(V)2 is not only about the electronics inside, but also about the antennas outside the aircraft and keeping rework to a minimum. For instance, cabling, brackets and the antenna locations are reused.

Black Hawk Cockpit Photo: Northrop Grumman
Black Hawk Cockpit
Photo: Northrop Grumman

The AN/APR 39 also has an extra electronics slot so there’s room for more–communications or RF jamming capability that can go into the existing system in lieu of adding another system.

This approach “changes the survivability and upgradability” on helicopter platforms, he said.

As well, Northrop Grumman will be upgrading Black Hawks under the L Digitization program, Palombo said. The legacy analog cockpit will be replaced by a digital integrated avionics glass cockpit for a Black Hawk called the UH-60V.