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Northrop expanding military drone production

MOSS POINT — The Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems plant that puts together drones near Trent Lott International Airport has been in operation for four years and has grown from 25 employees to 70.

As the newest Navy contract goes into full swing, the plant is expected to double production, from producing the fuselages for five or six high-altitude surveillance drones a year to 10 a year by 2015.

There are 30 of the Global Hawk-type unmanned planes in existence in the world today and every fuselage was built in Moss Point.

“There’s no plan to build them anywhere else,” said Jim Stratford, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman.

As the industry grows, the plant management is considering a second shift or more tooling or both, Stratford said.

Production at the site now takes up more than two-thirds of the building’s 101,000 square feet, assembling fuselages for Global Hawk-type drones, control boards for drones and installing the electronics in the small drone helicopters called Fire Scout.

The plant now builds four separate styles of Global Hawk fuselage, depending on the customer’s needs. There’s the Air Force version, the new Navy version, the Euro Hawk that Germany owns, one NATO is considering and others.

The state and Jackson County pitched in to attract the plant that cost $25 million in initial investment of land and building, $2.5 million for access roads and utilities, $1 million securing access to the airport’s taxiway and later, an additional $2 million to $3 million in company building improvements.

The overall economic impact of the plant is $16 million with a net effect on 161 jobs that include suppliers in the area, company officials said.

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