Among all the teaming agreements and new partnerships announced at this year’s CANSEC trade show, one quietly slipped under the radar. Northrop Grumman opened a new office at the London International Airport in order to collaborate with Diamond Aircraft Industries on a future ISR platform for the Canadian and international markets.

“Our relationship with Diamond is to take what we have in Northrop Grumman and incorporate that in some sort of ISR platform. We haven’t really gone about determining what that aircraft could be or how it could work, but we have entered into a collaboration agreement with Diamond so we can start working on that process,” explained Warren Comer, the lead for unmanned systems international communication. “Right now, because we are dealing with a U.S. company and a Canadian company, there are a lot of export-import restrictions we have to work out.”

The Canadian Armed Forces have a requirement for a persistent, medium to high altitude unmanned capability – Northrop’s Global Hawk family of aircraft is a possible contender for the so-called JUSTAS program – but Canadian Special Operations Forces Command has more recently indicated a need for a manned ISR capability.

Comer said the partnership was not established to target any one specific program, but rather to build on each other’s strengths.

“It gives us a good opportunity to share information and ideas. They have the general aviation knowledge that we really do value, the expertise in composite manufacturing, aircraft design, and they have flown for 1000s of hours. We have a number of different ISR capabilities, from sensors to the architecture. We can take that and place it in their aircraft, design different kinds of capabilities. We’ll be able to work with Diamond on any kind of aircraft system that we want to develop, and offer it to the Canadian government or internationally.”

In 2012, Northrop Grumman began flight tests on Firebird, an unconventional medium altitude manned or unmanned ISR platform that could be adopted as a Canadian solution or further advanced with Diamond.

The partnership is also a recognition of the government’s desire for both innovation and export opportunities under its new defence procurement strategy. Comer said the company views the relationship as a long-term strategic opportunity that might incur initial costs to set up facilities in Canada, but offers growth beyond any single program.