Northrop Grumman Corp. said Wednesday that Chief Executive Ronald Sugar plans to retire at the end of the year.

The Los Angeles defense contractor said Sugar, 61, will be replaced as CEO on Jan. 1 by Wes Bush, the company's current president and chief operating officer. Bush, 48, has been elected to the board, effective immediately.

Sugar also serves as Northrop's chairman. When he retires, lead independent director Lewis W. Coleman, 67, will become the board's non-executive chairman. Sugar will continue advising the company as chairman emeritus until his official retirement date of June 30, 2010.

"Wes Bush brings extraordinary management talent and industry knowledge to his new position and his selection reflects the effectiveness of the company's leadership succession process," Coleman said in a statement.

Northrop Grumman, with 2008 sales of $34 billion, is the nation's second largest defense contractor by revenue, following Lockheed Martin Corp. Sugar, who joined the company after its 2001 acquisition of Litton Industries Inc., was elected chairman and CEO in 2003. Bush, who joined the company in 1987, became president in 2006 and COO in 2007.

Prior to the announcement, Northrop shares closed up 34 cents, or less than 1 percent, to $49.85 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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