AAI Corp. has been awarded a $10 million Navy contract to design and develop upgraded electronic testing equipment for the P-3 Orion anti-submarine airplane.
The award is the first phase of a contract that could bring up to $50 million in business to the Cockeysville-based company that was one of the fastest-growing defense contractors in the state during the early to mid-1980s but has seen its employment base drop sharply in recent years.
Michael Browne, program manager for the P-3 automatic test equipment program, said that the first phase of the contract calls for the production of four units. Assuming that the program remains in the defense budget, he said, another 15 units would be built in the second phase of the contract and 13 more in the final segment.
The P-3 is a long-range plane with a crew of 10 that is used to detect, classify and track submarines, Navy officials said. The four-engine turboprop also is equipped to destroy the underwater vessels.
Mr. Browne explained that the automatic test equipment is used on board the plane to test its avionics system.
"It can tell the crew which black box [of the craft's avionics system] has failed," he said.
Employment at AAI grew rapidly during the defense buildup of the 1980s, reaching a peak of about 4,000 in 1987. The company currently has about 2,400 workers.