Northrop executive set to lead Air Force

Bush to nominate Roche, head of Linthicum unit

April 25, 2001|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

James G. Roche, the head of Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Baltimore-area electronics division, will be nominated by President Bush to become secretary of the Air Force, the White House announced yesterday.

Roche has managed Northrop Grumman's Electronic Sensors and Systems Sector in Linthicum since it was purchased from Westinghouse in 1996. He helped the unit nearly double its workload over that period to about $5 billion a year and built the division into one of the world's premier developers of sophisticated military electronics and radar systems.

"He has a reputation for being a great intellectual and has tremendous experience. Sounds like a good choice to me," said Richard L. Aboulafia, senior aerospace analyst for The Teal Group, a Northern Virginia research firm.

Roche, 61, had no comment on the nomination, which is subject to approval by the U.S. Senate.

He has worked for Northrop Grumman, which is based in Los Angeles, since 1984, shortly after he retired from the Navy as a captain. While in the Navy he worked in advisory roles on Capitol Hill.

Born in Brooklyn, he holds a doctorate in business administration from Harvard University.

Bush also nominated civilian leaders of the other military services yesterday. Thomas E. White, vice chairman of Enron Energy Services, was selected to be secretary of the Army, and Gordon England, executive vice president of General Dynamics Corp., was named secretary of the Navy.

As Air Force secretary, Roche would quickly become embroiled in budget and policy questions that are atop his priority list at Northrop Grumman.

Both of the Air Force's new jet fighter programs, the F-22 Raptor and the proposed Joint Strike Fighter, are under review by the Bush administration and at risk of being scaled back or canceled. Roche also could be asked to determine the fate of the B-2 bomber, Northrop Grumman's marquee product for the past decade.

The local division of Northrop Grumman has much at stake in the future of those aircraft.

The division is playing a key role in developing Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar systems, the next generation of military radar technology. Modules in the system can move electronically rather than mechanically.

"During Jim Roche's tenure ... that sector really became the core of the entire corporation of Northrop Grumman," said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst for the Lexington Institute, a conservative think tank.

"I think he is one of the rarest of personalities in this industry - an industrialist who is also an intellectual. I don't know if that's always good, but that's what you get."

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