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Northrop Grumman sets up shop in GF

Northrop Grumman held a ribbon-cutting Friday for its new office at UND, a room scarcely larger than two cubicles put together. But there were dozens of area business, university and state leaders there to cheer on the company. Gov. John Hoeven, ...

Northrop Grumman held a ribbon-cutting Friday for its new office at UND, a room scarcely larger than two cubicles put together.

But there were dozens of area business, university and state leaders there to cheer on the company.

Gov. John Hoeven, who spoke earlier at the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Action Summit, asked the handful of Northrop Grumman officials on hand to stand up so the audience could applaud.

The new office is just temporary digs for the Los Angeles-based defense industry giant, of course. Officials said they'll ramp up to 20 to 25 workers within a year and 50 to 100 within two, all to service the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft arriving at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

"It all depends on the level of funding the program gets, and it depends on global crises," said Ed Walby, director of business development for the Global Hawk. The aircraft was mostly experimental before Sept. 11, he said, but after the terrorist attacks, the military wanted it in operation ASAP.


Northrop Grumman officials said they expect to do as much business as they can with local businesses. They will also help local firms to get in touch with Northrop Grumman subcontractors, some of who will also bring new workers to the area.

There are a lot of Northrop subcontractors. Just in the first tier, Walby listed 35 major companies such as Rolls-Royce, L3, Raytheon, Goodrich and Honeywell.

A new U-2

Northrop Grumman seems about as excited to be in the area as everyone else. Friday, it held two community briefings in Grand Forks and, according to Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple, it'll meet with state officials this summer to discuss business opportunities.

One of the Grand Forks briefings was for the general public, a chance for "Mom and Dad" to find out more about the Global Hawk, Walby said.

Then again, maybe people know more than the company thinks.

Walby said he was in town about three years ago and on the taxi ride to the hotel when the taxi driver asked what he did. He said he was in the unmanned aircraft business and the driver remarked that the "Block 40s" were coming. "I just about fell out of my seat," Walby said. "He didn't say 'Global Hawk,' he said 'Block 40.' These people know!"

Block 40 is the most advanced variant of the Global Hawk, which has a wingspan longer than a U-2 spy plane and radars that can track, according to Walby, every car, truck and bicycle in Southern California at the same time and tell you how fast each is traveling.


It could track a dog, too, if the dog ran fast enough, he said.


The other Grand Forks briefing was targeted at businesses.

Walby handed out contacts, phone numbers and e-mails and encouraged businesses to call. When someone in the audience asked what types of goods and services would be needed so locals can start planning, Walby said the company has just started to think about it because it'll be two years before Global Hawk is in full operation in Grand Forks.

Then he changed tack and said, actually, now's a good time to start pestering Northrop Grumman and its subcontractors about that.

The briefing was just the sort of thing Mike Corcoran enjoyed hearing.

He's the former deputy director for unmanned aircraft operations for Customs and Border Protection, which has two Predators at Grand Forks Air Force Base. In January, he quit to join Ulteig Engineers and, recently, helped found Unmanned Applications Institute International.

The latter is a nonprofit group that aims to connect local businesses with opportunities in unmanned systems, from aircraft to boats.


And Corcoran said he means any business, from sellers of office paper to manufacturers of metal components. "There's a thousand different things that make that thing fly and we get to touch all of them," he said.

No. 4 in world

The Grand Forks branch is the second one in the state for Northrop Grumman.

It owns a plant in New Town, opened in 1970, where about 120 employees build wing harnesses for Global Hawks, F/A-18 Hornets and the new Joint Strike Fighter, spokesman Jim Stratford said.

Being in Grand Forks has a number of advantages, one being that's where the Global Hawk that the company services will be starting next summer, and, according to Walby, UND's engineering program could help meet the company's needs for engineers.

In San Diego, he said by way of example, the company "drained" local universities of engineers.

Northrop Grumman boasts sales of $33.8 billion, as of the end of 2009, and employs 120,000 worldwide, according to its website. Its products range from B-2 stealth bombers to radars for F-16s to Virginia-class attack submarines and Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. The Global Hawk, and its several variants, is the company's leading unmanned aircraft product.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, it's now the fourth-largest defense contractor in the world.


Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

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