Northrop Grumman (NOC) Q1 2022 Earnings Call Transcript | The Motley Fool

2022-05-19 09:41:16 By : Mr. William YIN

Founded in 1993 by brothers Tom and David Gardner, The Motley Fool helps millions of people attain financial freedom through our website, podcasts, books, newspaper column, radio show, and premium investing services.

Founded in 1993 by brothers Tom and David Gardner, The Motley Fool helps millions of people attain financial freedom through our website, podcasts, books, newspaper column, radio show, and premium investing services.

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Image source: The Motley Fool.

Northrop Grumman (NOC -0.96% ) Q1 2022 Earnings Call Apr 28, 2022 , 9:00 a.m. ET

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Northrop Grumman's first quarter 2022 conference call. Today's call is being recorded. My name is Renz, and I'll be your operator today. [Operator instructions] I would now like to turn the call over to your host, Mr.

Todd Ernst, treasurer and vice president, investor relations. Mr. Ernst, please proceed.

Todd Ernst -- Treasurer and Vice President of Investor Relations

Thanks, Renz. Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Northrop Grumman's first quarter 2022 conference call. We'll refer to a PowerPoint presentation that is posted on our IR website this morning. Before we start, matters discussed on today's call, including 2022 guidance and beyond, including outlooks, reflect the company's judgment based on information available at the time of this call.

They constitute forward-looking statements pursuant to safe harbor provisions of federal securities laws. Forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties, which are noted in today's press release and our SEC filings. These risks and uncertainties may cause actual company results to differ materially. Today's call will include non-GAAP financial measures that are reconciled to our GAAP results in our earnings release.

On the call today are Kathy Warden, our chair, CEO and president; and Dave Keffer, our CFO. At this time, I'd like to turn the call over to Kathy. Kathy?

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Todd. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us. We've seen significant changes to the geopolitical landscape since our last earnings call. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has consequences for the stability of the region in addition to creating a profound humanitarian crisis.

Our thoughts are with the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom and protect their way of life. Through the Northrop Grumman Foundation, we are committing aid to help the people of Ukraine, including matching our employees' personal donations to select charitable organizations. This situation underscores the importance of having strong defensive capabilities to deter broader aggression and contain global conflicts. At Northrop Grumman, we've worked to ensure our country and its allies have these deterrent capabilities.

Modern deterrence depends on our customers' ability to maintain advantage over competitors in multiple domains from undersea to space and cyberspace and every domain in between. Northrop Grumman continues to demonstrate our ability to bring deterrent solutions to a more complicated world through unique capabilities in areas such as stealth, cyber, space, computing, propulsion and communications to name a few. I'll talk more specifically about our capabilities and our strategy in a few moments. But first, let's address the budget trends we see in light of this threat environment.

In the U.S., there is bipartisan support for increasing defense budgets. Congress finalized the fiscal year 2022 defense appropriations in March, and the administration has since issued the fiscal year 2023 defense budget request. Both of these base budgets showed solid 4% to 5% top line growth with additional potential in supplemental funding. Based on initial indications from Congress, the final fiscal year 2023 appropriation could be even higher than the initial request as Congress looks to address the evolving threat landscape, but also to offset inflationary pressures.

Currently, the fiscal year 2023 budget request includes a 4% increase in the investment accounts. The main driver behind this increase is a 9% increase in R&D to fund development of critical capabilities, particularly in space and deterrents. Space continues to be one of the fastest-growing defense budget areas with a 30%-plus year-over-year increase. The request also fully fund modernization of the strategic deterrent, including initial production funding for B-21, as well as significant year-over-year increase in development funding for GBSD.

And NASA budgets are also growing in support of a new era of space exploration. The FY '23 budget request includes an 8% increase over FY '22, including funding ongoing programs such as Artemis, and new initiatives for Moon to Mars efforts. And globally, there is an ongoing paradigm shift regarding national security and several allies have pledged to increase defense spending as a result. We stand ready to support them in achieving their national security objectives as well.

With the budget environment as context, I'll take a few minutes to step back and frame our business strategy. Our fundamental goal is to be the leading technology company, enabling the U.S. and its allies to protect freedom, deter conflict and sustain our planet. Our business strategy, which we've been executing for several years is focused on four core areas.

First, is maintaining technology leadership and delivering innovative and affordable solutions with speed. Next is sustainably and profitably growing our business in our customers' highest priority missions while maintaining contracting discipline. Third is keeping a laser focus on performance and driving cost efficiencies. And finally, we are focused on deploying our capital in value-creating ways for our customers and investors.

This strategy has created strong alignment with our customer priorities and strengthened our portfolio position. As we sit here today, we expect this will enable us to accelerate our revenue growth rate in 2023 from the low single digits in our 2022 guidance. By 2024, we also expect that by growing our business and delivering strong operational performance, we will be able to drive our segment operating margin rate to approximately 12%. And we continue to expect to grow our transaction-adjusted free cash flow at a double-digit CAGR through this period.

From a capital deployment perspective, investing in our business to support this growth outlook remains our top priority. After making such investments, we are targeting a return of at least 100% of our free cash flow to investors in 2022. Underlying these performance goals and expectations is our position in several priority growth areas for our customers. Our role in supporting deterrents across all domains is in direct alignment to the needs of today's changing global national security environment.

For nearly seven decades, the U.S. has successfully mitigated the risk of broader global conflict through strategic deterrents. Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor on two of this recurrent deterrents modernization program. For the B-21 program, the Air Force confirmed that the first aircraft has entered the ground test phase, pays being the way for first flight, and there are five additional test aircraft in various stages of assembly.

This progress is partly enabled by our digital design capabilities and advanced manufacturing technologies, which reduce risk ahead of the aircraft's first flight. And looking forward, we expect sales on the B-21 program to grow as the EMD phase continues, and we progress into low rate initial production. This assumption underpins our expectations for aeronautics revenue to be flat next year and return to growth in 2024. For GBSC, we remain on schedule.

The program is expected to continue to ramp over the next couple of years as we execute on the $13 billion EMD contract with nearly $1.9 billion in expected revenue in 2022. We still expect the program to enter production in the 2026 time frame with initial operating capability planned for 2029. GBSC production is expected to be a material growth driver in the middle of the decade as is reflected in the president budget. In addition, our space business continues to experience rapid growth as our customers rearchitect their space-based capabilities.

This growth is in response to adversaries developing more sophisticated weapons, the need for more capable missile defense warning systems, as well as the migration of some airborne missions to the space domain. In the first quarter, we've received several new awards that showcase the breadth of our space portfolio and our ability to compete and win in various domains, including ground systems and proliferated LEO constellations. These awards build on our significant backlog and positions our space business for expected double-digit growth once again this year. Notable wins in this quarter included nearly $700 million award for 42 satellites in low-Earth orbit that provide high-speed, low-latency communications for the Space Development Agency's transport layer.

And we won a $340 million contract for Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability, or DARC, that dramatically improves situational awareness, particularly in geosynchronous orbit. And in Q2, we anticipate an approximately $2 billion award from ULA to provide GEM 63 motors for launch services, including in support of Amazon's Project Kuiper. Another area where we see meaningful future growth opportunities is in Mission Systems, particularly our Network Information Solutions business, which at its core is a communications and processing business. In this area, we have proven technology leadership in connecting and linking military systems with a broad portfolio of products, including networking systems and radios and cyber computing and AI capabilities.

We're seeing a rapid evolution in this area with ambitious goals from our customers to field open distributed secure networks that are more survivable. Initiatives like JADC2 are providing demand for our existing platform-agnostic solutions as well as providing opportunities for new technologies we are developing. And we are creating partnerships like the 5G partnership with AT&T that we announced this month to strengthen our competitive position. We believe this communications business will be the fastest-growing area of MS over the next couple of years.

Given all that I've just outlined, you can see that our portfolio is aligned to the evolving national security environment and priority areas for our customers. We continue to demonstrate our ability to deliver compelling solutions in this environment. Ultimately, executing on our strategy depends on having the right culture and people. This is one of the reasons we focus on remaining an industry leader in ESG.

I encourage you to look at our annual sustainability report, which we published in March. It provides insights to our progressive governance structure, our culture, our commitment to ethics, diversity, equity and inclusion and environmental sustainability. As we shared in this year's report, we are committing to net zero emissions in our operations by 2035. We also published our first TCFD report, which provides additional transparency around our approach to managing the climate-related risks and opportunities across our business.

So with that, I'm going to turn the call over to Dave to provide more detail on our results and guidance, and then we'll move on to Q&A. Dave?

Dave Keffer -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Kathy, and good morning, everyone. Our first quarter was a strong start to the year. We generated more bookings than we've been expecting, including competitive wins on several new programs. Our robust backlog of $76 billion continues to be over twice our annual sales and provides the foundation for future growth.

First quarter sales totaled $8.8 billion, down 2% organically and up sequentially from the fourth quarter of 2021. Q1 sales represented about 24% of our full-year guidance, in line with our prior projection. We experienced some temporal COVID-related productivity and volume impacts to start the year, which receded as the quarter progressed. Continued tightness in the broader labor market represents a challenge that we're working hard to mitigate as we ramp on large contracts and address strong market demand for our capabilities.

We continue to make progress on this front and are pleased with the trajectory that we're on. Our execution remains solid in the quarter. We delivered a segment operating margin rate of 11.8%, in line with the midpoint of our full year guidance. And we made progress on several elements of our long-term cost efficiency strategy.

At the program level, net EAC results varied across sectors as is common in any given quarter. One of the positive EAC changes in Q1 was a $67 million favorable adjustment on the B-21 program related to performance incentives. In addition to what Kathy noted, I wanted to take this opportunity to provide a bit more color on this franchise program. B-21 is currently in its cost type EMD phase with a variety of incentive fees for which we accrue based on anticipated achievement.

Our projections for certain EMD incentives improved in Q1, leading to the favorable EAC adjustment. We are in a critical integration and test portion of the EMD phase this year and we continue to focus on production efficiencies. The low rate initial production, or LRIP phase, will begin over the next year and run in parallel with EMD for a period of time. LRIP for B-21 is fixed price, and we expect to recognize revenue for the LRIP lots separately from EMD.

The LRIP units were priced as part of our original bid for the program. The full rate production phase, or FRP, has yet to be negotiated and includes the majority of the aircraft volume in the program of record. Based on our current projections, which run roughly through the end of this decade, we continue to expect production to be priced and profitably executed within the program's average procurement unit cost target. Now turning back to our Q1 results.

Diluted earnings per share in the quarter were $6.10, reflecting our strong segment performance. Keep in mind, we had a headwind of roughly $0.46, resulting from lower CAS pension costs and our overhead rates that we booked in the first quarter of last year. In aggregate, our transaction adjusted earnings per share were down 7%, compared to Q1 2021, primarily due to nonoperational factors, such as lower net FAS/CAS pension and the performance of marketable securities. It's worth noting that the after-tax net FAS/CAS pension adjustment in Q1 was nearly $250 million, representing $1.58 of earnings per share.

This was $40 million lower than Q1 a year ago and a $0.19 EPS headwind. We expect similar impacts in each of the remaining quarters in 2022. That total net FAS/CAS pension adjustment primarily reflects the actuarial gains and losses in our pension plans, and is not something we consider when assessing the company's operating performance. Moving to 2022 guidance.

We have minimal changes. We're increasing the sales guidance for our space business due to continued strong momentum and recent capture of new awards, as Kathy outlined. We now estimate sales in the mid- to high $11 billion range which would result in another year of double-digit sales growth. At defense systems, we are adjusting our estimate to the mid- to high $5 billion range to reflect a lower first quarter, particularly on some of our international training programs.

These two adjustments offset each other, and our full-year company level sales guidance is unchanged. With respect to our quarterly sales profile, we expect Q2 sales to be between 24% and 25% of our full year guidance midpoint with our expectation near the middle of that range. From there, we expect accelerating year-over-year growth in the second half of the year. Next, I wanted to take a moment to talk about cash.

First quarter transaction-adjusted free cash flow was consistent with our expectations and in line with our historical seasonal trends. The decrease compared to the first quarter of 2021 reflects timing of collections and disbursements and our full-year guidance is unchanged. After the quarter ended, we made our first cash tax payment of the year, which included the projected effect of current R&D tax law. Our next estimated tax payment is due June 15.

We continue to project that cash taxes would be about $1 billion higher for the full year should the current law remain in effect. But we remain optimistic that we will see it deferred or eliminated given the broad bipartisan support for doing so. Our base case assumption for cash flow and P&L continues to be that Section 174 R&D tax law will be changed. If and when that happens, we would expect to file for any appropriate refunds of taxes paid and also recognize a spike in corporate unallocated cost in that quarter associated with the reversal of the deferred state tax asset that had been building year-to-date.

I'd note that we've already incorporated these items in our full year EPS guidance. We remain committed to providing excellent shareholder returns with at least $1.5 billion in share repurchases targeted for this year on top of a healthy competitive dividend. As Kathy mentioned, in aggregate, we expect to return at least 100% of our 2022 transaction-adjusted free cash flow to shareholders via dividends and share repurchases. Over time, we expect the cash on our balance sheet at a typical year-end to be roughly $2 billion, which would continue to provide flexibility and liquidity.

Our capital deployment strategy also prioritizes investing in our business. We continue to expect capital expenditures for 2022 to be in line with 2021 levels. And later today, we will file an S-4 with the SEC as the final step of the obligor exchange process that we executed last summer on certain debt instruments. Overall, we're pleased with our first quarter results and achievements as we continue to build a strong foundation to accelerate growth and deliver on our long-term value creation strategy.

And with that, we'll open your call up for questions.

[Operator instructions] Our first question is from the line of Doug Harned with Bernstein. Please go ahead.

Doug Harned -- AllianceBernstein -- Analyst

Good morning. Thank you. Kathy, you talked about aeronautics and how you're looking at the top line in 2022 to '24. But this has been complicated.

You've got several mature programs that are set to decline this year. Even F-35 trajectory looks complicated, E-2D appears to be ending in 2024. And then beneath that, you've got high growth on the B-21 ahead. You've got a budget boost for Triton.

Can you help us understand the puts and takes here that get you to those revenue expectations for the next few years?

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Sure, Doug. And you did a nice job of outlining the key moving parts in the aero portfolio. Let me start with the mature programs. These are the ones we've been talking about for several years, Global Hawk, Joint Stars, that are in the Air Force plan for retirement and that is happening in the near term.

Then we have things like what you noted with E-2D, it will reach its program of record quantities over the next several years. We don't see this as an issue in '23 and '24. But as we look to '25 and beyond, that program will be reliant on international sales. And I will say that we are building quite a bit of international interest for E-2D and prosecuting on a pipeline there, but the Navy program of record will reach its full quantity.

And then F-35, we look at that as fairly stable over the next couple of years is what we've been saying, and I know there's a question about the quantity and the budget request and how that impacts the Northrop Grumman quantities. It really doesn't have a material impact because we already were planning to build toward our capacity and working with Lockheed Martin. It appears that, that plan is still intact. And then as you know, there are some opportunities that layer additional sales into the plan over the next several years.

B-21 being the most notable, for the first time, the President's budget shows the production land starting in 2023. And you can see that, that grows significantly in that same time frame. So lots of puts and takes, but as we look forward to 2023, we see those netting out to about flat with where we expect to finish 2022. And then largely based on B-21 growth and not having any major headwinds in 2024 from the other programs I just outlined, we see growth in 2024.

Doug Harned -- AllianceBernstein -- Analyst

Well, and just as a follow-up within that, the new budget, there's a big boost for Triton. And if I look at unmanned systems, this has been an area where, I mean, at least a while back, the company had talked a lot about differentiation because of the operating architectures that have been developed at Northrop Grumman. But we saw -- we've seen Global Hawk come down, HALE Systems, I think there's -- the Triton boost is good. But how do you think of growth potential in unmanned systems overall from this point?

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

We still see both the Air Force and the Navy looking at unmanned systems as a key part of their architecture. That these won't be either the highest quantity or the highest priced assets in their fleet. So when you think about the overall materiality of unmanned systems in an aeronautics portfolio, whether it be ours or others, it's not going to be one of the bigger drivers for growth over the next decade, but it will be important. And the capabilities that we have and that we have refined through our work on our HALE platforms as well as some smaller platforms, I think is highly relevant to our positioning for this market in the future.

Doug Harned -- AllianceBernstein -- Analyst

Our next question is from the line of Robert Stallard with Vertical Research. Your line is open.

Rob Stallard -- Vertical Research Partners -- Analyst

Thanks so much. Good morning.

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Rob Stallard -- Vertical Research Partners -- Analyst

Kathy, thanks for the additional detail on the B-21 there. But I was wondering if we could -- I don't know if we dig any further on this. You mentioned that the LRIP portion is fixed price and would have been signed a few years ago. I was wondering how this now stands with regard to the inflation that the whole world is dealing with? And how you're going to manage that?

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Thanks for the question because this is an important thing for us to touch on, and that's why we've provided a bit more clarity on what production looks like on the B-21 program as we are approaching that phase. We did is a -- that quantity, that quantity is not something I can share, but it's a small portion of the overall program of record as part of the initial bid, and that is what constitutes LRIP and that was bid as fixed price. And as we put that bid together, of course, we, at the time, laid in some expectations around growth inflation to adjust to this time period.

And we will continue to look at whether those assumptions still hold. I'll remind you, we're not really going to be into the production phase for a couple of years in any significant way. And so we still have a good bit of time and we expect inflation is going to modulate and were not seen based on the assumptions we've made today a material impact to the program. And part of like Dave shared how we think about the accounting on the program is to the two now, we are already looking at those road blocks since we are obligated under our initial proposal for those quantities and still expect to be able to produce those within the government target price, which is published and is updated and adjusted for inflation on a regular basis, the last time the Air Force did that within 2019, a little over $600 million [inaudible] and we continue to look at our own bids and make sure that we see a path to executing those quantities profitably, and we reiterated that again today.

Rob Stallard -- Vertical Research Partners -- Analyst

That's very helpful. Thank you.

Our next question is from the line of Sheila Kahyaoglu with Jefferies. Please go ahead.

Sheila Kahyaoglu -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Good morning, Kathy. Thank you. Since we're on the topic of profitability, Kathy, you laid out some margin expansion targets through 2024, I think you mentioned 12%. Given the growth drivers you have, how are you also thinking about just mix? Again, you touched on inflation, it doesn't seem a big deal in productivity overall.

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

So mix is becoming less of a factor for us in the next few years. We had talked about our mix being roughly 50% cost type and 50% fixed plus price. That's exactly where we are as we sit here in the first quarter. And we don't see that varying too much over the next couple of years, maybe a percentage point higher on cost plus or two as we look at the next couple of years.

When we see that inflection point to more fixed price is as both B-21 and GBSD start to move into their production phases. And so you can think of that notionally around the '25, '26 time frame, in the middle part of the decade. And even then, we don't see a very large swing in our mix because we still have development work that we'll be bidding and continuing to execute in the pipeline. So mix is less of a factor as we look forward at the company level.

Now I will note that when you get into the segment level, for instance, in space, those drivers are more pronounced. And so we do see a bit more of a mix shift there. And you asked about how we think of that in terms of profitability. So mix no longer being a big driver when we think about profitability and cost efficiency and performance being the two big drivers that we are focused on.

So I talked about that in our strategy in terms of cost efficiencies. We've put in place a dedicated team at the company level, and we're working all elements cost to ensure that we're operating as efficiently as possible.

Sheila Kahyaoglu -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Thank you. The next one, we have the line of Peter Arment with Baird. Please go ahead.

Peter Arment -- Baird -- Analyst

Yes, good morning, Kathy, Dave. Hey, Dave, maybe I could just follow up on Kathy's comments on the outlook kind of through 2024. You mentioned double-digit growth in free cash flow, how do we think about it from kind of the puts and takes on just an overall conversion rate below 100% currently? And just what's the right way to think about it as we look out through '24?

Dave Keffer -- Chief Financial Officer

Sure. Thanks for the question, Peter. No significant changes to our free cash flow outlook from when we described it in some detail a quarter ago. It's not a three-year outlook that we intend to modify on a quarterly basis unless there are material changes, and so the same drivers exist today.

We do see an opportunity over the next few years for us to continue investing appropriately in the business, but to have capex come down slightly, especially in 2024 in comparison to '22 and '23. So that's one of the drivers of free cash flow acceleration. We also have the end of the payroll tax deferral issue that benefited us in '20 and as an outflow in the next -- in the following two years. And so that will benefit '23 and '24.

On the kind of working capital side, as we've noted, 2019, '20 were very strong years of working capital efficiency. At this point, we've put our working capital metrics up against any in the industry. We're very proud of the efficiency of our balance sheet. And the next year that we see opportunities for continued enhancement there is largely 2024 due to the timing of some payment expectations in that year, incentive milestones and such.

So again, no changes to the outlook there. Those are some of the key moving pieces relatively stable on the working capital front in '22 and '23 before seeing those opportunities in '24. And as we've noted, we do see expansion in the core business, both at the top line and the bottom line, supporting that outlook over the next few years as well.

Peter Arment -- Baird -- Analyst

Our next question is from the line of Ron Epstein with Bank of America. Your line is open.

Ron Epstein -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Yes. Hey, good morning. Kathy, what have you seen in international markets? I mean, since the events in the Ukraine started to play out, we've heard from several NATO members that they're going to up their defense spending to 2% as a floor potentially, right? I mean Germany kind of doubled their defense budget over a weekend. So what have you seen on the international front and customer interest there? And then I have a follow-on after that.

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Sure, Ron. Well, we've definitely seen interest pick up across Europe, and we've been engaging with customers there to understand their needs and time lines. Of course, we haven't seen a dramatic shift in immediate spending plans. Part of what I know each of the countries is thinking their way through is what the need is and then what their requests will be and what their reliance on U.S.

product will be. So we expect that to be more of a '23, '24 time frame to get clarity and start to see real award opportunities. In the meantime, we are providing a good deal of support to Ukraine just in the sense of our assets being used either by the U.S. or our NATO partners to provide surveillance, intelligence and monitoring of the situation and as well providing some additional capabilities into Poland.

Ron Epstein -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Got it. Got it. And kind of the follow-on there, more domestically focused. Do you expect the -- nuclear posture review, I guess, isn't out yet, and some changes in that, and what that could mean for GBSD? And some of the other programs you're on in the wake of what's going on in Eastern Europe?

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Well, even though the nuclear posture review hasn't been fully released, there has been executive summary provided and the President has supported all three legs of the triad in the nuclear posture review. As I was spending time on the Hill just this week, I still see very strong bipartisan support for all three legs of the triad. And to your point, I think that support has even grown in the last two months as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and a recognition of the importance of the Triad to contain that conflict. So we see that continuing to be a tailwind to the modernization programs that are underway.

Ron Epstein -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Great. Thank you very much.

Thank you. The next one, we have the line of Mr. David Strauss with Barclays. Please go ahead.

David Strauss -- Barclays -- Analyst

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

David Strauss -- Barclays -- Analyst

Kathy, you talked about the upside in the fiscal '22 enacted budget, the proposed '23 budgets, is there any way you can quantify what that might mean to your revenue growth trajectory in '23 and '24? I know it takes time to come through, but I guess relative to whatever you were thinking maybe six to 12 months ago, I mean, does this add 100 basis points? 200 basis points? Any sort of quantification you can give?

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. David, as I mentioned in my remarks, we do expect our revenue growth to accelerate into 2023. Right now, we see that in line with 2023 consensus. It's really early even in this year, but we expect 2022 to be in low single-digit growth as we outlined in our guide and with the growth rate accelerating in the second half.

So we do expect that momentum that we see in the second half of this year to carry into 2023. And of course, the 2023 president's budget is a good indication that demand our products is holding up extremely well. The one thing I would note is we're fairly mindful of the supply side challenges that continue. Certainly, we saw those most notably at the beginning of this year, and they have, in our case, really moderated as we looked at March and April performance.

But we're keeping a close eye on everything from the tight labor market to inflation and COVID-related headwinds that could slow down our growth rate, even though we have strong budget support for our programs. So I'd sum all that up by saying there's reason for optimism, and we have optimism, but it's cautious optimism. And it's a bit early in the year for me to try to put a number on our 2023 growth rate given all of those puts and takes. But we'll certainly keep you updated on each quarterly call on our outlook for next year.

David Strauss -- Barclays -- Analyst

OK. That's helpful color. And as a follow-up, you offered a little bit more detail on B-21, so I thought I would ask this. It looks like in the budget, there is about a $2 billion funding increase in fiscal '23 versus the rate that the levels that we've seen over the last several years.

I mean is that the kind of revenue growth kind of increase we're looking at B-21 looking out over the course of the next couple of years?

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Well, the government is looking at layering production on top of EMV. And so what you can see in the fight is a pretty stark jump in '23 as production gets layered in. But of course, keep in mind all of those dollars won't be spent in calendar year '23. And then there's not as pronounced a step up after that, but production funding still remains healthy as EMC starts to come down.

And that's the profile we would typically see on a program like this. But it does project robust funding for B-21 through the decade. And we -- that is what we are anticipating as well.

David Strauss -- Barclays -- Analyst

All right. Thanks very much.

Thank you. The next one, we have the line of Seth Seifman with J.P. Morgan. Your line is open.

Seth Seifman -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Thanks very much and good morning. Just starting off with a quick clarification earlier about the move to the 12% segment margin. When you talked about the mix change in space, Kathy, was that -- I assume, was that getting more toward cost plus as when you work and GBSD grows? And if so, is that a headwind? And if that's the case, what are the segments where you expect to see margin expansion?

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. So I should have been more clear, and thanks for pointing that out. We do expect more cost-plus work in space over the next couple of years as GBSD continues to grow. We're also executing on next-generation interceptor, which is a big growth driver and then some afforded classified efforts that are in the development phase and continuing to scale as well.

In terms of other businesses that are moving in the opposite direction, so stronger margin rates, aeronautics is one that we see having stronger margin rates, you already see that in our guide for this year being higher than last. And we anticipate that we'll continue to see strong and healthy margin rates there. Defense and Mission Systems already performed at very strong margin rates, so we expect that to continue. But the real offset that we see is space and aero.

And I will also say that in space, we've seen the bulk of that pressure already because keep in mind, while GBSD will continue to grow in the EMD phase, not to the extent that we've seen it went from a couple hundred million a year to over $2 billion. And so over this time period, and the majority of that will already have happened through the '22 period.

Seth Seifman -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Great. Thank you. And then just a quick follow-up on rocket motors and [inaudible] First of all, it seems like there's some friction in the supply chain for rocket motors based on some comments this past week. I assume that's not Northrop Grumman, but do you see any opportunity to take share as a result? And secondly, is there any supply chain or other friction for the Northrop space business as a result of disruption in the space supply chain from the war in Ukraine?

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. So there's a lot to unpack there. Let me start with the commentary around rocket motor providers. We are performing well across the board for our primes and we do not believe that any comments that were made relate to Northrop Grumman performance.

We continue to offer our capability to any who would like to have our rocket motors and we're going to continue to do that. And we're investing in that business to make sure that we are a good and stable performer and provider. In terms of our exposure to Ukraine and Russian rocket motors, we do have some exposure on our CRS contract. So this is where, through our Antares launch vehicle, we procure rocket motors from Russia and cores from Ukraine.

We have what we need for the next two launches. And so there isn't immediate disruption. And we have a plan in place that we could use other sources if needed, beyond those two launches. But of course, it's our preference to keep the relationship intact between Russia and the U.S.

around the space station, and that's what these rocket motors are used for to take cargo to the International Space Station. But we are working closely with NASA to make sure we're following the U.S. government lead in that case.

Seth Seifman -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Thank you. The next one, we have the line of Kristine Liwag with Morgan Stanley.

Kristine Liwag -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thanks. Good morning, guys. And Kathy, taking a 30,000-foot view, I mean the outlook for defense in the U.S. and our allies is positive.

You're on two legs of the nuclear triad, and there's clear bipartisan support for these programs. Free cash flow is stable. I mean, when you take a step down, the company's future is pretty visible here. And with the FTC blocking the Lockheed Aerojet Rocketdyne deal, large M&A seems to be off the table for now.

The company, so Northrop had bought back about half of its shares outstanding in the past 15 years. If the priority is still buybacks, at some point, in a distant future, there may not be any more stock to buy. How do you think about long-term uses of cash, especially as free cash flow remains positive and you've got so much visibility?

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Well, it's an excellent strategic question, Kristine, and one that we spend a good deal of time thinking about. And I will say our first priority is investing in the business. And you have seen us invest at an elevated level of capex, as well as our R&D as a percentage of sales over the last several years. And we are not backing away from that core part of our strategy.

I noted when I laid out our strategic plan that technology leadership and innovation is core to how we have attained the position that we're in and in my view, will be the most important factor to retaining that position of strength. And so we will continue to invest in our business. But with that said, strong cash flows. And as you noted, as strong outlook for growth to fuel those cash flows gives us a lot of optionality in our capital deployment strategy.

We do believe that at some point, M&A may come back on the table. But for the immediate term, as you said, large needle-moving M&A is likely not to be a strategy that we can execute. And so we are looking at returning capital to our shareholders at this important time through a competitive dividend and share buyback. We do tend to prefer share repurchase in this environment to give us a little more flexibility as environmental factors change.

But share repurchase is still a core part of our strategy, but its final means the only method that we believe we create value for shareholders, and we stay focused on investing in our company.

Kristine Liwag -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thank you. The next one, we have the line of Cai von Rumohr with Cowen. Please go ahead.

Cai von Rumohr -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Yes. Thanks so much. So I recall on the Q4 call that you talked about book-to-bill being, I believe, one or a little below one this year. You started out strong, particularly in space.

Could you tell us how has that changed? Can you -- any thought you could be above one? And how should we think about all the areas because space looks like it's on its way to being well above one.

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, Cai. We do not expect book-to-bill to be over one this year. It is off to a stronger start than we expected. And so we'll be clear, it is likely to be higher than we anticipated coming into the year, but still don't see it crossing the 1.0 threshold.

And space is a key driver, as you've noted, of that strength but we see broad strength in bookings this year beyond what we had expected some nice competitive wins in our Defense Systems business and our aero business also having strong awards, particularly as we look to book Lot 15 aggregate demand on F-35 this year. What we look at, and I've mentioned this on prior calls, is a multiyear book-to-bill. And so having a portfolio where we've brought in some very sizable long-term awards like B-21 and GBSD, we have a backward-looking book-to-bill over 1.2 aggregate for the last three years. And so we don't expect to have that kind of performance in book-to-bill every year, but we still expect our four-year average once we take '22 into consideration to be well over 1.1.

So sustaining the backlog growth that we need to fuel the business growth we anticipate.

Cai von Rumohr -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Very good. And sort of as a follow-up, we have a strong FY '22 appropriation, we have a big '23 request, which everyone expects to be plused up by Congress. Any color as you think about going forward, is that book-to-bill likely to be -- is your best guess that it goes up over the next couple of years? And any color you could provide would be great.

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

I would just say that we see an environment where we can keep that multiyear average well above one.

Cai von Rumohr -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Terrific. Thank you very much.

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you. The next one, we have the line of Myles Walton with UBS. Please go ahead.

Myles Walton -- UBS -- Analyst

Thanks. Good morning. First one, just a clarification maybe for Dave. The 100% free cash flow return to investors in '22, is that before the amortization tax impact? Or how does that work?

Dave Keffer -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks for the clarification, Myles. That is independent of the Section 174 determination. So we intend to return at least 100% of free cash flow in either case, whether it is deferred or not.

Myles Walton -- UBS -- Analyst

So if it is deferred, would you return the guided number that is not adjusted for the tax, so that is 2.5 to 2.8? Or would you just be signing up to 100%?

Dave Keffer -- Chief Financial Officer

OK. That's correct. So we have roughly $1 billion run rate on the dividend side. We've committed to $1.5 billion of share repurchase.

And so you can take from that, that there would be incremental potential if Section 174 were deferred.

Myles Walton -- UBS -- Analyst

OK. And then, Kathy, is it within -- in terms of supply chain issues, everybody sees something, are you seeing it within defense systems as it relates to some of the munitions? Is that sort of where you might be seeing it? Or it doesn't look like you're being terribly affected? Or you're forecasting it better than most? So maybe just give some color there.

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

So Myles, I wouldn't point to any 1 part of our business where we are seeing dramatic impacts. Aero, where we have high volume line in F-35, we saw it last year, and we talked about that quite clearly. As we got into the first quarter of this year, and the plan that we laid in place, we are meeting that plan on F-35, but there was impact. And we still are working to address that impact on the F-35.

Other than that, there's really no single program or area of the business that I'd point to just a little bit of sluggish attendance coming into this year due to COVID cases, some light impacts on electronics supply both to Mission Systems and Defense Systems, but nothing material enough to really call out individually.

Myles Walton -- UBS -- Analyst

Thank you. The next one, we have the line of Robert Spingarn with Melius Research.

Robert Spingarn -- Melius Research -- Analyst

Good morning. You've given us really great incremental detail on B-21, but I just wanted to perhaps flesh this out a little bit further, if you can and talk about the revenue cadence with EMD. When EMD and LRIP overlap, are we going to have a peak revenue year? Or does the LRIP grow enough and the EMD is small enough that its -- we should see growth through the rest of the decade?

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Well, I would point you to the [inaudible] So the budget does not show a peak revenue year through fiscal year 2027. So I can't provide you much more than that because quantities and the like are classified. But if you just look at what was in the -- what the administration submitted. Now, of course, this has to go through appropriations, and it's always subject to annual revision as well.

But what was submitted this year for the five-year outlook does not show a peak year through 2027. Does that help?

Robert Spingarn -- Melius Research -- Analyst

OK. And then -- and just based on what you talked about with profitability and relative to EMD margins, would it be fair to assume that the profit cadence is not the same as the revenue cadence? In other words, the margin mix, the margins would drop at some point because of the switch in contract. And then just, Kathy, as a follow-up to that, do you think possibly going forward, we'll see less fixed price development on new contracts? Just not so much focused on B-21, but what we're seeing elsewhere in the industry across the industry on all the charges on a lot of these programs.

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Well, I can't really comment on B-21 mix of EMD and production rate. And so let me go straight to your broader strategic question, which is an important one on whether the government will likely shift away from fixed price development. I do believe that there will be a shift away. And I think we've already seen that to a large degree.

And frankly, B-21, well, we were asked to bid fixed-price LRIP. We did not have a fixed-price development phase of that program. And there's a very important distinction in my mind between production, even early stages of production at fixed price and the development phase being at fixed price. And of course, GBSD is a cost-plus development program.

So that's why I suggest that we are already seeing a shift on major weapons systems development to a cost-plus development phase, which, in my mind, has always been the right approach for the government to contract for development. By definition, there is inherent technology development and risk associated with that phase and you want to be able to apply resources to reduce that risk into production. And if the government doesn't have that latitude because they are set at fixed price, then the contractor has to do that often out of their own profit, which is really tough decisions to make. And I think it impacts the ability then for the program to be successful over the full life cycle.

And of course, the majority of the government's costs are in the production and sustainment phases of the life cycle, not development. But I think the government recognizes this and it's why we've seen a shift away from fixed price development on these large weapon systems. Now there still will be some fixed price development in the system, but I don't see it being a material driver.

Robert Spingarn -- Melius Research -- Analyst

Thank you. Our next question is from the line of George Shapiro with Shapiro Research.

George Shapiro -- Shapiro Research -- Analyst

Yes. Good morning, Dave, I wanted to ask unbilled receivables were up like $600 million in the quarter. Now does that reflect the F-35 work that you've done, but you can't show as revenues yet until the Lot 15 to 17 contract is signed? And if so, then that $600 million first quarter revenues and will help sometime later in the year, so if you just comment on that.

Dave Keffer -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks for the question, George. No is the short answer. The unbilled receivable growth is not directly related to F-35 or any one other program in the portfolio. Rather, I would point you to the common seasonality that we tend to see in the first quarter, given the timing of receipts in that case.

And more broadly speaking about free cash flow seasonality, the timing of payments as well. We tend to have an outflow in the first quarter of the year, and this year is almost exactly in line with the average of the last four or five years. So no significant single items there. On F-35, the P&L sales and other lines were not affected by the timing of contract negotiations to your point, nor would they be anticipated to be in a meaningful way through the end of this year.

George Shapiro -- Shapiro Research -- Analyst

Because I noticed, I mean, the unbilled receivables were up like about double what they were in last year's first quarter. That's part of the reason for the question.

Dave Keffer -- Chief Financial Officer

No. I appreciate the question. Last year's first quarter was actually the anomaly there where we had a stronger free cash flow result and working capital change in the first quarter of the year than we had, had in any of the prior five or six. And so this year is more in line with history, so it's a very good point.

Last year was the unusual one.

George Shapiro -- Shapiro Research -- Analyst

OK. And then just one for you, Kathy. I mean defense looks like it's going to be the weaker business going forward. It's one of your smaller businesses.

You consider divestiture of any pieces of that business?

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Well, George, as you know, we did look at the entirety of our portfolio and divested the IT services business that was in defense. And we were very intentional and thoughtful about that. But we looked at the rest of the portfolio and feel that it has nice synergy with our business, and we do see opportunity to grow that business. Just a little bit of reset here that, that business is experiencing but the weapons portfolio continues to grow, and we have nice synergy between the aircraft sustainment and modernization and our aeronautics business.

And our IBCS portfolio sits in there, and we absolutely, as that program now is maturing and we've won full rate production fee growth there. So we're happy with the portfolio, a little bit of transition to growth. that we're still working our way through here. But no, nothing else that I would look to divest in that portfolio right now.

George Shapiro -- Shapiro Research -- Analyst

The next one, we have the line of Richard Safran with Seaport Research. Please go ahead.

Richard Safran -- Seaport Global Securities -- Analyst

Kathy, Dave, good morning. A lot has been asked already, and so I have a general question regarding one of Dave's opening remarks. With respect to major platforms and systems, you've rapidly gained a lot of share, a number of programs in development. You've been talking about it all morning.

Now historically, one problem that comes along with that is having to use the A team than the B team, etc., and all the while maintaining execution, which, by the way, just judging from the incentive fee on the B-21 is actually pretty darn good. Now there are still opportunities out there. So my question is, is Northrop's plates full? Dave, you mentioned labor, do both of you feel you have sufficient resources to support bringing on additional programs and still maintain the current level of execution? Thanks.

Dave Keffer -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks for the questions. Certainly, those are topics and priorities that are front of mind for us these days. You heard both Kathy and I comment in the opening remarks about the criticality of execution and labor, our people, our resources, the hearts and minds of this company are at the center of our execution capability. To your point, we've demonstrated ourselves well over the last few years of execution efficiency of maintaining cost and schedule on many key programs.

And we devote a lot of resources to that. I wouldn't say that we're at a point where we're at capacity, where we couldn't take on additional work. We're certainly devoting all potential resources to bringing additional capacity on board and have ramped significantly over the last few years, both in headcount and key supplier relationships, so that's certainly a priority for us. Certainly, we're spending a lot of time in that area today, but we're eager to continue to meet the key demands of our customers and feel that we're well aligned with those areas of demand in the budget outlook as we've described on the call.

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

And that's probably a place to leave it. I think we are blessed to have a lot of A teams. So thanks, everybody, for calling in today and listening to our call. As always, we wish you well and look forward to talking to you again in July.

Todd Ernst -- Treasurer and Vice President of Investor Relations

Kathy Warden -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Dave Keffer -- Chief Financial Officer

Doug Harned -- AllianceBernstein -- Analyst

Rob Stallard -- Vertical Research Partners -- Analyst

Sheila Kahyaoglu -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Peter Arment -- Baird -- Analyst

Ron Epstein -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

David Strauss -- Barclays -- Analyst

Seth Seifman -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Kristine Liwag -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Cai von Rumohr -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Myles Walton -- UBS -- Analyst

Robert Spingarn -- Melius Research -- Analyst

George Shapiro -- Shapiro Research -- Analyst

Richard Safran -- Seaport Global Securities -- Analyst

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning service.

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 05/19/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Calculated by Time-Weighted Return since 2002. Volatility profiles based on trailing-three-year calculations of the standard deviation of service investment returns.

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.

Making the world smarter, happier, and richer.

Market data powered by Xignite.