MOSS POINT, MS (WLOX) - It's proof of a growing Jackson County economy. Dozens of community leaders gather Wednesday to listen to Northrop Grumman and Navy officials tout the recently signed BAMS contract or broad area maritime surveillance.
Steve Enewold of the BAMS program said it took a lot to get to this point.
"Thousands and thousands of hours of work we've done to define what the Navy really wants and get the requirements squared away, do the drawings and release those to manufacturing."
Work has already begun on the first plane. So what will they be used for? Just about anything, including stopping pirates, according to Captain Bob Dishman with the U.S. Navy.
"Imagine if BAMS aircraft with its sensors were out there today, that we can alert any merchant ship in that area if anything suspicious is approaching that vessel, pirating essentially goes away."
While most of the uses for the unmanned plane are military in nature for both the Air Force and the Navy, there's one way the plane may help in ways you couldn't imagine as Ed Walby with the BAMS program explained.
"You've got part of the Global Hawk family working on scientific research and helping protect our shores and our citizens when it comes to things like a natural disasters such as hurricanes."
Congressman Jo Bonner of Mobile, Alabama, feels the economic benefits of this new contract cut across state lines.
"I was proud to hear that there's so many people from Alabama who make the trek over here every day to work at this outstanding facility."
And it's work that will protect not only America, but the world's major ocean shipping lanes as well.
Northrop Grumman Aerospace currently employs 70 full time workers. If Navy officials decide to go into full production of the BAMS planes next year, dozens more could be hired to work on the program and production would increase from five planes per year up to as many as 18. If all 68 planes are built, it will mean a 14 year backlog of work at the plant.