Md. factories, labs good on defense

Billions for defense: State ranks fourth in the nation in terms of prime contracts from the Pentagon.

September 29, 2001|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

When the United States goes to war, it relies heavily on the might of Maryland's defense industry.

More than 850 companies in the state produce a wide variety of military hardware - from some of the biggest names in the industry to some so tiny that few people have heard of them.

Maryland companies are working on defense contracts valued at $8.8 billion, according to Lynford Morton, a spokesman for the federal Defense Contract Management Agency.

The state is fourth in the nation in terms of receiving prime contract funds from the Pentagon, according to the state Department of Business and Economic Development. The state received $5 billion in awards for major weapon systems last year.

Products range from a small, unmanned spy plane that looks more like a toy, to the radar for the AWACS planes that were airborne within minutes of the World Trade Center attacks to scan the sky for other possible hijacked jetliners.

A Baltimore clothier makes uniform jackets for the Army and the Air Force.

Beretta USA Corp., in Accokeek, produces the 9 mm handguns issued to most officers.

The Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel has been a leader in the design of the Tomahawk cruise missile, and workers at a Lockheed Martin Corp. plant in Middle River make the launchers that fire Tomahawks from Navy ships.

A Columbia company, Meridian Medical Technologies Inc., is the sole supplier of pre-filled automatic injectors used by soldiers in the field to give themselves nerve gas antidotes. Another of its injectors dispenses morphine.

Last year, the company delivered the first of its nerve gas antidote kits to help major cities prepare for terrorist attacks.

James H. Miller, Meridian president and chief executive, said military contracts account for 45 percent of its business.

One of the first moves by the Bush administration in retaliation for the terrorist attacks was to order a squadron of made-in-Maryland attack planes to Kuwait, where it could spring into action on short notice.

It was the A-10 Thunderbolt II, a low-altitude jet designed to take a beating while supporting troops on the ground. It was made by the former Fairchild Republic Aircraft Corp. at a plant in Hagerstown. The last plane was delivered to the Air Force in 1984.

"It was a plane that the Air Force's top procurement officers didn't want," said J. Allen Clopper, former head of flight testing at Fairchild. "They like the glamorous planes, the supersonic jets that look like they were flying when they were sitting on the ground."

Clopper admits that the A-10 is "an ugly duckling," but doesn't think it deserves the unflattering nickname "Warthog."

"I have followed the plane's exploits with pride," he said. "The gulf war gave it an opportunity to prove its worth, and it really did."

It was about to be phased out when a pair of A-10s captured the attention of the Pentagon's top brass when the jets blasted 23 Iraqi tanks to pieces in a single day.

On a much smaller scale, AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley makes a miniature plane - 330 pounds and a wingspan of 12 1/2 feet - that is used to spy on enemy troops.

It's similar to, or might even be, the model that Afghanistan's ruling Taliban said its forces shot down over the weekend.

AAI's plane, the Shadow, carries electronic equipment that provides battlefield commanders with television images - day and night - of enemy troop movements.

"Our people here at Hunt Valley feel very good about being able to help protect our armed forces when they are sent into harm's way," said Richard R. Erkeneff, president of AAI.

One of the strangest looking planes in the U.S. arsenal is the E-3 Sentry, which carries the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). The craft carries a radar system made at the Northrop Grumman Corp. plant near Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The radar is housed inside a 30-foot-diameter dome atop a military version of the Boeing 707 jetliner.

The AWACS directs fighter planes and bombers to their targets while keeping a close eye out for enemy planes and low-flying cruise missiles.

While the E-3's exact range is a military secret, the Air Force will say that an AWACS plane flying over Baltimore can monitor every plane in flight from the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina to Hartford, Conn.

Radar for F-16

The Northrop Grumman plant also makes the fire control radar used in Lockheed Martin's F-16 fighter plane, the Fighting Falcon.

The radar in the nose of the F-16 gives the pilot heading and altitude. It also spots enemy aircraft beyond visual range and guides air-to-air missiles to their targets.

While an F-16 pilot may shoot down a plane he never sees, workers at the Beretta plant in Accokeek make a weapon that soldiers use only when they can see the whites of enemy eyes - a 9 mm handgun.

The Prince George's County plant has delivered more than 400,000 pistols to the military. They replaced the semiautomatic Colt .45 that U.S. troops began using in 1911.

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