Northrop Grumman opens new ND facility

By Patrick C. Miller | April 25, 2017

Northrop Grumman Corp. last week officially opened a new facility dedicated to fostering autonomous systems and other capabilities at the Grand Sky Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Business and Aviation Park near Grand Forks, North Dakota.

The 36,000-square-foot building adjacent to the Grand Forks Air Force Base will serve as a nucleus for research and development; pilot, operator and maintainer training; operations and mission analysis; and aircraft maintenance.

Janis Pamiljans, corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, stressed the cooperative arrangement in partnership with the state of North Dakota, the FAA-approved Northern Plains UAS Test Site and the U.S. Air Force. In addition, he said working with the School of Aerospace Sciences at the University of North Dakota (UND) will encourage technical innovation.

“Being here at a site really starts drawing science and technology and math on different solutions and brings different ideas,” Pamiljans said. “A facility like Grand Sky allows that collision of ideas so that we can advance software development. It’s about future designing of UAS systems, but it’s about making them more cognitive, too. That is the next generational leap in mission operations planning. That’s what you hope to get out of this.”

The new building was initially completed late last year. The company is also planning construction of a hangar to take advantage of the aviation park’s access to the Air Force base, home to a squadron of RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance UAS.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who’s played an active role in negotiations between the Air Force and Grand Sky, said that recent global events highlight the need for the development of the Global Hawk and other UAS technology, both in the military and civilian worlds.

“The case that we make is that we should continue to invest in the technology of the future rather than old technology,” Hoeven said. “And so far, that’s worked well for us. We’ll continue to make that argument.

“We have to maintain our leadership with the rest of the world when it comes to military applications,” he continued. “And then you have the whole range of civilian applications, as well, as we continue to develop UAS.”

Mick Jaggers, Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk UAS vice president and program manager, called the new facility a unique opportunity to foster growth in technology and innovation.

“With the ability to couple that with the real-life operators we have at Grand Forks—as as well as the innovation with UND and their educational systems here—we can combine those two forces in a single place,” he said. “And that way we can get the best out of technology and let machines do what they’re good at and let humans do what they’re good at.”

Noting that Northrop Grumman was the first anchor tenant of Grand Sky, Tom Swoyer, president of Grand Sky Development Co., said, ““They recognized early on the unique synergies that Grand Sky offers for experienced UAS firms who are moving to bridge the gap between military and commercial uses, and now they can begin to capitalize on that foresight.”

The grand opening ceremony was attended by representatives for U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. and other state and local dignitaries, Air Force personnel, business and community leaders, and several Northrop Grumman executives.