Defense cutbacks claim another victim


May 14, 1994|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland will be feeling more of the pain associated with the cutbacks and consolidation of the nation's defense industry.

In the next few weeks, CAE-Link Corp. will begin laying off the first of more than 200 workers at its Silver Spring plant, which produces computerized simulation training equipment for the Navy.

By the end of the year the company's 250,000-square-foot plant will be closed and most likely sold or leased to another business.

"The demise of the Soviet Union and the nuclear submarine threat hit us real hard," said James J. Ridgell, general manager of the Link plant, off U.S. 29 in Montgomery County. Anti-submarine warfare used to be one of the Navy's top priorities, he said. Now, "It's not even on the list anymore."

One of the Silver Spring plant's main products is a simulator used to train crew members on the P-3 aircraft. The P-3 is a military version of a four-engine turboprop transport, equipped with electronic devices to detect submarines operating beneath the surface.

Link makes a similar trainer for the S-3 plane, which is an aircraft carrier-based version of the P-3.

Another Silver Spring program is development of equipment to train Trident submarine commanders in the use of control center communication equipment.

CAE-Link announced in February that it would close the Silver Spring plant and consolidate the unit's production lines with another plant in Binghamton, N.Y.

Mr. Ridgell said that about 40 workers at the Silver Spring plant will be transferred to Binghamton.

He said most of those being transferred are technical and engineering people. "There will be some program managers, but most will be design engineers."

For those left behind, he said, it would be a "painful period."

The schedule calls for about 50 workers to be laid off the first of June, then an additional 175 by the middle of July.

Employment at the CAE-Link plant has declined sharply since 1988, when it had about 1,000 workers. As recently as three years ago it employed about 450 workers, according to Mr. Ridgell.

Mr. Ridgell said the plan is to close the factory by mid-July and begin the process of selling off the equipment. By October, he said, the company should be ready to sell or lease the building.

George Houser, president of CAE-Link, said the consolidation of operations will help the company be more efficient and productive.

CAE-Link is a part of the Aerospace and Electronic Group of Toronto-based CAE Inc. The company identifies itself as the world's largest supplier of commercial, military, and space-flight simulation and training systems.

CAE-Link has its roots in the late 1920s, when Edwin A. Link, a young aviator, invented the first aircraft flight simulator.

The chubby, coffin-sized trainer looked more like a toy plane than a real one. It was mounted in a box containing electric pumps that made the tiny vehicle pitch and roll as the pilot worked the controls.

Although few customers were buying the simulators during the Depression, airplane flight had captured the public's imagination, and the simulators became a popular amusement park ride.

Business took off during World War II as the need for trained pilots grew rapidly.

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