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Northrop Grumman eyes Canadian market for Arctic UAV

June 6, 2012, Falls Church, Va. - Northrop Grumman is looking to move its venerable Global Hawk aerial drone from the skies above Afghanistan to the frigid air of the Canadian Arctic.


June 6, 2012
By Carlo Munez The Hill

The U.S. weapons manufacturing giant has rolled out a new version of its Global Hawk designed to withstand the "harsh weather conditions over vast expanses of … land, ice, littoral and open water environments throughout the Arctic," according to a company statement.

Designed as a joint venture with defense firm L-3 Communications, the modified "Polar Hawk" is tailored to meet Canada's growing demand for intelligence in the Arctic region.

The drone’s features "are uniquely suited" to meet Canadian military requirements to "extend its reach to patrol … the nation's vast Arctic region from coast to coast in a single mission," Duke Dufresne, vice president and general manager for Northrop Grumman's unmanned systems business, said in the statement.

The original Global Hawk has been a key part of the Air Force's aerial surveillance arsenal, logging thousands of flight hours supporting combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hotspots around the world.

Aside from the Polar Hawk, Northrop Grumman is working on a Navy version of the drone — dubbed the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance system — that can operate off the decks of U.S. warships.

Northrop's attempt to move the Global Hawk into Canada is yet another sign of large American defense firms looking to overseas markets to bolster their bottom lines.

American defense firms have been more than happy to oblige the increasing international appetite for unmanned technologies, especially with tightening U.S. defense budgets expected over the next decade.

Boeing is pitching its Scan Eagle to the Iraqi government to patrol the country's oilfields. Company officials also rolled out a new version of the F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter, specifically designed for the international military market.

Most recently, Northrop officials reportedly offered their Polar Hawk pitch to the Canadian defense ministry unsolicited.

That said, U.S. law governing exports of military hardware is hindering the ability of those defense firms to open up foreign markets.

The Obama administration has already taken steps loosen its export controls, particularly on unmanned systems.

Administration officials are currently pushing through a new hardware export reform strategy to double military and commercial exports over the next five years.

The strategy includes reducing the list of what sensitive military cannot be sent overseas. The plan will also outline new parameters for information technology systems.

However, it could take more than export-reform efforts to get the American-built Global Hawk into Northern Canada.

The Canadian defense ministry was publicly chastised for its mishandling of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program earlier this year.

A report out of Ottawa detailed instances where Canadian defense officials either misled or outright lied about anticipated costs for the advanced fighter.

In the political fallout resulting from the report, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper blocked defense officials from spending any more money on the Canadian version of the JSF.