WASHINGTON, Dec 6 (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force is testinga new unmanned spy plane developed by Northrop Grumman Corp called the RQ-180 that could be ready for militarymissions by 2015, Aviation Week magazine reported on Friday,citing defense and intelligence officials.
Aviation Week said Northrop won the contract to build thedrone after a competition that included Boeing Co andLockheed Martin Corp, maker of the smaller, lessstealthy RQ-170 spy plane, one of which went down in Iran.
The RQ-180 was funded through the Air Force's classifiedbudget and would replace the Lockheed SR-71 that was retired in1998, the magazine reported.
Northrop spokesman Randy Belote declined comment on thereport, referring queries to the Air Force. Air Forcespokeswoman Major Natasha Waggoner also declined comment.
Aviation Week said the new plane carries high-end sensorsand surveillance equipment, but could also be used to carry outelectronic attack missions.
News about the RQ-180 comes after the Air Force last yearsought to halt funding for Northrop's high-altitude,non-stealthy Global Hawk plane despite resistance from Congress.Air Force officials told lawmakers they wanted to use the moneyfor "much higher priorities," but declined to elaborate.
The RQ-180, reported to be similar in size to the GlobalHawk, will help the Air Force as it moves toward operations in"denied airspace" instead of the more permissive environmentsover Iraq and Afghanistan.
Publicly available overhead imagery shows new shelters andhangars sized for an aircraft with a wing span of more than 130feet at Northrop's Palmdale, California, plant and at Area 51,the Air Force's secure flight-test center at Groom Lake, Nevada,Aviation Week reported.
- Military & Defense
- Northrop Grumman Corp