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) -- War boosted the third-quarter results of


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The defense contractor and aerospace concern, helped by Pentagon orders for submarines as well as the drone aircraft that have become de rigueur in the war in Afghanistan, also lifted its full-year earnings-per-share guidance. It's now targeting a range between $5.00 and $5.15, up from an earlier $4.65-$4.90 spread.

The company issued the results before Wednesday's market open. Midway through the trading session, investors had bid up Northrop shares by 2.5% to $51.01.

Still, Northrop had to contribute some $544 million to its pension fund in order to make up for a gap, which cut into the company's profit for the quarter. Northrop said it earned $487 million, or $1.52 a share, down 4% from the year-ago period's $509 million, or $1.50 a share.

Leaving aside the pension spending as well as a partially offsetting tax benefit, Northrop's third-quarter EPS would have come to $1.44. Either way you slice it, the company's profit figures surpassed the $1.18 that analysts were, on average, targeting for the period.

Sales, meanwhile, rose 4% to $8.73 billion, also beating expectations. Wall Street had pegged the company's third-quarter top line at $8.58 billion.

The strength appeared mostly to come from Northrop's shipbuilding and aerospace divisions, which took in 14% and 5% more in sales, respectively, than they did in same period a year ago.

In shipbuilding, Northrop has been constructing Virginia-class attack subs and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers for the navy. The unit had revenue in the quarter of $1.65 billion. Still, higher production costs hurt the unit's profit margins.

The aerospace division, meanwhile, has experienced brisk sales volumes in its unmanned aircraft programs -- the drones that allow airmen to surveille terrain in Afghanistan and Iraq from far afield. The division pulled in $2.53 billion in the period. As a percentage of Northrop's total sales, aerospace showed gains, increasing to 10.5% from 9.6% last year.

The company said it booked $10 billion worth of orders during the quarter. Its total backlog now stands at $71.5 billion.

Northrop's relatively buoyant report, issued before the bell Wednesday, was in stark contrast to


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, which issued a profit warning Tuesday, cautioning investors that fighter-jet sales may decline and that pension costs may rise.

Elsewhere in aerospace,


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posted a $1.6 billion loss, wider than expected, on the well-documented production delays in its 787 Dreamliner and 747 commercial airliner programs.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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Scott Eden has covered business -- both large and small -- for more than a decade. Prior to joining, he worked as a features reporter for Dealmaker and Trader Monthly magazines. Before that, he wrote for the Chicago Reader, that city's weekly paper. Early in his career, he was a staff reporter at the Dow Jones News Service. His reporting has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Men's Journal, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, and the Believer magazine, among other publications. He's also the author of Touchdown Jesus (Simon & Schuster, 2005), a nonfiction book about Notre Dame football fans and the business and politics of big-time college sports. He has degrees from Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis.