For the period that ended December 31, net income was $550 million, or $2.09 a share, compared with $306 million, or $1.03, a year earlier.
Sales fell 5.8 percent, however, to $6.51 billion.
The average estimate of 21 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was for a profit of $1.67 per share.
Northrop Grumman's chairman, chief executive officer and president Wes Bush said: "Our businesses drove higher operating income, earnings, cash and a strong book-to-bill ratio for the quarter. Our 2012 guidance reflects our continued commitment to performance, affordability for our customers and strong cash generation.
"While we are in a challenging environment, we believe that we can continue to create value for shareholders, customers and employees."
Northrop also forecast 2012 profit from continuing operations of $6.40 to $6.70 a share on sales of $24.7 to $25.4 billion. Analysts had estimated $6.82 a share on sales of $26.1 billion.
Northrop's Bush has divested units that presented a conflict with US rules on contracting or were dragging down the company’s profits. In March 2011, Northrop spun off its $6.7 billion shipbuilding unit as Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.
Northrop's remaining businesses include electronics, aerospace, information systems and technical services. Some of its major programs, including the Global Hawk unmanned plane and work on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, are coming under US budget pressure.
The Pentagon has proposed curbing purchases of one version of the Global Hawk because it's too expensive to operate. The company also is a subcontractor to Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) on the F-35, which is facing delays.
For the quarter, sales at the electronic systems unit, which makes military radar, declined less than one percent to $1.87 billion. Profit fell 5.9 percent to $256 million in the unit from $272 million a year earlier.
Sales at the aerospace unit, which makes the Global Hawk drones, fell 4.1 percent during the quarter to $2.56 billion. Operating income rose less than one percent to $325 million from $322 million a year earlier. The unit's revenue declined partly because of less work on the F-35 program as well as reduced funding on weather satellites, Northrop said in the statement.
Sales at the information systems unit, which provides computer systems services to military and civilian agencies, declined 8.4 percent to $1.91 billion, Northrop said. Profit increased 10.1 percent in the segment to $196 million.
Revenue at the technical services unit, which provides logistics and training services, fell 15.1 percent to $675 million and profit rose 14.3 percent to $56 million, the company said.
Wednesday morning, shares were up almost three percent at $59.58.