SIERRA VISTA — Some 245 high-paying Department of Defense-contracted jobs will leave the area in May when the contract on the Northrop Grumman “MQ-5B Hunter” drone — technically known as Unmanned Aircraft System, or UAS — program expires.
“The US Army has formally notified Northrop Grumman that it will not exercise the two option years on the Hunter program following the current period of performance, which ends 10 May 2020,” Northrop Grumman Communications Director Liz Schwatka told the Herald/Review in an email. “Further information on the status and future funding and disposition of the program should be referred to the US Army.”
Sierra Vista Mayor Rick Mueller, who confirmed that the city was notified of the situation on Friday, said he understands the contract was not renewed due to troop drawdowns overseas.
A Yahoo! Finance article from May 2019 said the current, expiring contract was part of a $163.9 million contract awarded to Northrop Grumman by the U.S. Army Contracting Command in Alabama, and “per the terms of the deal, the company will conduct operations, maintenance, engineering, re-engineering and remanufacturing of the Hunter unmanned aircraft system” in Sierra Vista.
Schwatka did not immediately return an email late Monday afternoon requesting more specific information about the contract ending, or about what will happen with the building Northrop Grumman is leasing in Sierra Vista to house the Hunter program. That building is owned by the Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation (AREDF). AREDF Executive Director Mignonne Hollis on Saturday deferred comment on the matter to Northrop Grumman, citing an existing confidentiality agreement.
Department of Defense officials were not able to be reached late Monday, and a message to Fort Huachuca media relations staffers was not immediately returned late Monday afternoon.
Mueller said the City of Sierra Vista’s challenge now is to get another “applicant” or industry to come in and provide other jobs for the 245 people who will be left without employment after the exit of the Hunter program.
“I don’t know how many [of those 245 people] are tied to the program,” Mueller said Saturday. “But the best we can do is to help them find other jobs here.”
Mueller said he hopes another industry will come in to the area and provide those jobs.
“Most of those people live in the area and those are high-paying jobs,” Mueller said.
The mayor said Northrop Grumman’s contract with the Army for the Hunter program was on a year-to-year basis.
City officials learned Friday that the program will end May 10. Mueller said that does not mean that everything will automatically roll up and shut down that same day. The closing-down process takes a few months.
He said the reason for termination of the contract is because of a “drawdown overseas.”
“Those types of missions aren’t needed anymore,” Mueller said. “There’s no need for those systems.”
Mueller said city officials have been talking with the Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation — which recruits large companies such as Northrop Grumman — to attract another concern to the city.