Martin fails to get big Navy contract Hughes wins sonar work

January 03, 1992|By Ted Shelsby

A major Navy contract that was expected to generate up to $1 billion in new business and create about 240 new jobs at the Martin Marietta Corp. plant in Glen Burnie has gone to a West Coast competitor.

The Pentagon announced yesterday that the Naval Air Systems Command awarded a division of Hughes Aircraft Co. in Fullerton, Calif., a $31.4 million contract for research and development of a so-called "dipping" sonar unit for anti-submarine warfare.

The award is the first step of a new contract that is expected to span 15 to 20 years and total about $1 billion. The value estimate is based on additional purchases by Britain and Canada.

"It's very disappointing," said Raymond Bartlett, a spokesman for Martin's Aero and Naval Systems division, which includes the Glen Burnie complex and the company's operation in Middle River in Baltimore County.

"It's a big piece of business, and we worked very hard to win the contract," he added.

He said that as of yesterday Martin had not been officially notified by the Navy that the contract had been awarded to Hughes.

He said the company was still assessing the impact on its local operations.

Mr. Bartlett stressed that the award to Hughes was not a loss to the northern Anne Arundel County plant's business base, but it did represent a growth opportunity "that will not occur."

Martin Marietta showed its version of the Airborne Low-Frequency Sonar (ALFS), the official designation for the dipping sonar, in September 1990 at a three-day exhibition and symposium called to promote international cooperation as a means of stretching nations' declining defense budgets.

During the symposium, held in Washington, Martin Marietta expressed hope that a Navy purchase of the ALFS system would open the doors to contracts with Britain and Canada.

"If we win the U.S. award, it is reasonable to assume we will win the two other awards," John McDaris, director of anti-submarine war

fare and head of the ALFS program, said in unveiling Martin's entry into the competition at the military exhibition.

He said at the time that the three contracts would represent a 20 percent to 25 percent jump in business at the Glen Burnie plant, with a similar boost in employment.

The Glen Burnie plant has about 1,200 workers.

The Martin ALFS system looks like a large umbrella frame and weighs about 500 pounds.

It was designed to be lowered into the water from a hovering helicopter equipped with sensitive listening devices that would pick up the sounds of any submarines operating in the area.

Martin's Glen Burnie plant is already the Navy's leading supplier of towed arrays, which are used to detect and track submarines. These are long, tube-like devices containing a hydrophone that is reeled into the water from the back of submarines or surface ships.

Roger Copeland, a spokesman for the Naval Sea Systems Command, said yesterday that Hughes and Martin were two of six defense contractors vying for the award.

He did not identify the others, but he said it was well known within the industry that Bendix, a division of Allied Signal Inc., was in the running.

Bendix has had a near-monopoly on the Navy's dipping sonar business for 25 years.

The Navy is expected to purchase about 400 of the dipping sonars. Britain has expressed interest in 165 to 200 units, and Canada is looking for 40 units.

David Shea, a spokesman for Hughes' Ground Systems Group, said the company "views ALFS as a very significant win . . . that will guarantee sonar work for the company for long time to come."

While it will not likely result in any new hires, Mr. Shea said the contract will help secure the jobs of about 2,000 workers at its Fullerton plant.

"This guarantees that we will not lay anybody off," he added.

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