Northrop Grumman Corp., winner of a $3.74 billion contest to build unmanned spy-planes for the U.S. Navy, may find the order leads to more sales overseas, Bloomberg News reports.


The Australian government had included its requirements for an unmanned surveillance aircraft in the contest and will decide by year-end whether to buy the Northrop plane, Captain Robert Dishman, the U.S. Navy's program manager, said at the Pentagon in Washington yesterday. The Navy has also had informal talks with the U.K., Canada, Singapore and Japan, he said.


``It's very good news for Northrop,'' Myles Walton, an Oppenheimer & Co. analyst in Boston, said in an interview yesterday. ``It's an important step toward locking up the unclassified market for unmanned air vehicles.''


Los Angeles-based Northrop's Global Hawk drone, which is already flown by the Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan, yesterday beat separate offers by Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp for the Navy order to build as many as 68 aircraft. The initial $1.16 billion development contract runs through September 2014 and the total program may reach $3.74 billion.


The Navy's unmanned Broad Area Maritime Surveillance plane will be used to try to detect and track threats to the fleet. The aircraft will operate around the clock from five bases worldwide.


The victory extends Northrop's lead in unpiloted planes over Lockheed and Boeing, which dominate manned military aircraft. Northrop's $5.7 billion Global Hawk order from the Air Force is already the U.S. military's largest drone program. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the aircraft supplied 55 percent of the target data used to destroy air defenses while flying only 5 percent of the surveillance missions.

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