Martin develops electronic device to track submarines

December 02, 1990|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Sun Staff Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- Cold war or no cold war, the U.S. Navy is as concerned about the movement of submarines from other countries now as at any time in the past.

And Martin Marietta Corp.'s plant in Glen Burnie has come up with a new electronic eavesdropping device to make its job easier.

While it may look something like an umbrella frame, the new dipping sonar could result in a billion dollars' worth of new business over 15 to 20 years and the hiring of 240 workers at Martin's Anne Arundel County plant if the Navy buys it, company officials say.

Martin unveiled the Airborne Low-Frequency Sonar (ALFS), which is lowered into the water from a hovering helicopter, at the opening session Tuesday of ComDef90 -- a three-day exhibition and symposium at the Convention Center promoting "Common Defense," international cooperation as a means of stretching declining defense budgets. It was the first time the unit was displayed to the public.

In the spirit of international cooperation, Martin officials are hoping that a purchase of ALFS by the U.S. Navy will open the door to contracts with the United Kingdom, Canada and a few other countries.

"Everyone is waiting to see what the U.S. does," said John McDaris, Martin's director of anti-submarine warfare and director of the ALFS program. "If we win the U.S. award it is reasonable to assume we will win the two other awards," he said of pending purchases by the United Kingdom and Canada.

Martin also is hoping to break a stranglehold that Bendix, a division of Allied Signal Inc., has had on the Navy's dipping-sonar business for more than 30 years, he said.

While there are no assurance that Martin will win the contract, Mr. McDaris expressed confidence at its chances, noting that its new dipping sonar represents a vast improvement over current systems.

The Navy is expected to buy about 400 of the new dipping sonar devices. Mr. McDaris said the United Kingdom is considering the purchase of 165 to 200 units while Canada is looking for 40 units.

The three contracts would represent a 20 percent to 25 percent boost in business at the company's Glen Burnie plant with a similar boost in employment, Mr. McDaris said.

The Glen Burnie complex employs about 1,200 workers and makes towed arrays also used to detect and track enemy submarines and surface ships. These were the units featured in the movie "The Hunt for Red October," shown tracking a Soviet submarine.

ALFS is about 3 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter when its arms, which contain underwater microphones called hydrophones, are extended. It weighs about 540 pounds and is both a passive and active sonar, according to Albert Kamhi, a Martin spokesman. It silently collects signals from a submarine operating in the region or "it can become active by sending out a ping and listening for its return," he explained.

ALFS was competing for attention with the products of more than a hundred companies at the defense symposium.

Harley-Davidson was there hoping to grab a slice of the defense budget with a military version of its popular street machine. Although Harley delivered 90,000 motorcycles to the military during World War II, the York, Pa., company has not been nearly as successful selling its machines to the military in modern times. The only Harleys operating in the Persian Gulf are owned by Jordan.

Marietta, Ga.-based Kali-Duphar, which competes with Bethesda-based Survival Technology Inc. in the production of automatic-injection syringes filled with nerve-gas antidotes, was pushing its new nerve-gas pills.

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