Northrop Grumman makes fuselages for the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 Lightning II, like this one at its Palmdale plant in 2015.

Northrop Grumman makes fuselages for the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 Lightning II, like this one at its Palmdale plant in 2015. Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman CEO: We Can Build a Next-Generation Fighter

Kathy Warden said the company’s B-21 stealth bomber positions it well to compete for the Next Generation Air Dominance warplane.

Northrop Grumman should not be discounted as a possible builder of the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation fighter jet, the company’s CEO said Tuesday.

Speaking during a quarterly earnings call with investment analysts, Kathy Warden touted Northrop’s work building a new Air Force stealth bomber as a reason why the company should be considered a contender.

“As we think about sixth-generation aircraft, we are in the process of building the first of those, the B-21, and that's given us some fantastic experience and lessons that we believe we can apply to other sixth-generation aircraft and so we're positioned as a competitor,” Warden said. “I think our government desires to have a broad industrial base able to prime these large opportunities as possible, and we have been clear that we are investing and building our own capabilities and capacities to be able to be a contender.”

In the nearly two years since the Air Force disclosed it had flown a prototype of a new-generation warplane, there’s been wide speculation who is making the aircraft. The Air Force has refused to disclose the builder, or builders, of what it calls the Next Generation Air Dominance aircraft. Recently, Secretary Frank Kendall said a winning design has not been chosen and competition is still ongoing.

There’s been wide speculation about who is building the plane, as is typical when companies disclose they have received classified Pentagon contracts. Earlier this month, Boeing’s new defense CEO said the company is investing in technology to build new combat fighters.

Lockheed Martin, which builds the F-35 stealth fighter and the F-16, and Boeing, which builds the F-15 and F/A-18, have the only active fighter jet production lines in the United States. Northrop is a major supplier and maker of the F-35 fuselage.

Lockheed often says its position as the only U.S. maker of a fifth-generation fighter gives the company a leg up in the competition to build the new planes. Boeing executives, meanwhile, often point to their work with Sweden’s Saab on a new pilot training jet for the Air Force as showing it can quickly design and fly a new aircraft.

Northrop also designed a new jet for the trainer competition that Boeing eventually won, but did not place a bid because, officials said at the time, “it would not be in the best interest of the companies and their shareholders.”