Northrop Grumman Corp. has been awarded a $33-million Pentagon contract to transform its unmanned, long-range spy plane into a roving robotic aerial refueling tanker.

The plane, dubbed the Global Hawk, is used for high-altitude reconnaissance missions over Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. military. Northrop plans to retrofit the plane so it can carry 1,000 gallons of jet fuel in its fuselage and demonstrate it can autonomously refuel another Global Hawk in midair by next year.

The contract, awarded by the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, came as the Air Force has been attempting to replace its aging fleet of Eisenhower-era aircraft used to refuel U.S. fighter jets and bombers in mid-flight.

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