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Developing nations such as Indonesia, the Philippines or Vietnam in Southeast Asia, as well as Eastern European countries, haven’t been able to afford expensive and narrowly tailored unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) such as the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton. They’ve also been difficult to sell to because of US export restrictions around the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

In response to this need, Northrop Grumman designed its optionally-piloted Firebird surveillance aircraft so that parts of its production could be readily outsourced to developing nations that demand local manufacturing involvement.

The company says the Firebird’s configuration is simple enough that less sophisticated aerospace manufacturers could easily play a role in its production should their government decide to purchase the aircraft.

Aside from ownership of the aircraft’s design and software code, Northrop Grumman says it has little intention of holding onto production of the aircraft’s components and wants third-parties to line up to integrate with it.


The aircraft has an open systems architecture and payloads can be swapped in less than 30min, the manufacturer says. It can be flown with a pilot aboard or remotely as a UAV. Countries can opt for a less expensive manned version of the aircraft and then later install the hardware needed to fly it unmanned.

The unmanned version has a 30h endurance capability when flying at about 25,000ft, according to flightglobal.com. The aircraft also has ruggedized landing gear to take off from short, unprepared runways.

The firm believes international orders of the Firebird could equal the size of orders from the US government.