Lockheed outbid by Northrop's experience

Navy rejects bid by Middle River plant for missile launchers

January 31, 2002|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The Navy went with experience when it selected a Northrop Grumman Corp. unit in Sunnyvale, Calif., over Lockheed Martin Corp.'s division in Middle River to produce a system for firing Tomahawk cruise missiles from submarines.

Northrop Grumman Marine Systems was awarded a $16.6 million contract late Tuesday for the design, fabrication and testing of the system, edging out Lockheed Martin's Marine Systems unit in Baltimore County.

Lockheed Martin has been building missile launchers at Middle River for more than 20 years, but its MK-41 launchers are designed to fire a wide variety of missiles from surface ships, not submarines.

"We knew it was going to be difficult to win this work," said Tom Greer, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin. "Northrop Grumman has been making the underwater launch systems for about 40 years. But we were bullish. We thought we had a chance."

Richard Wameling, Northrop Grumman's program manager for the missile launcher said the contract "could potentially be worth over $100 million" when it moves into the production phase near the end of 2004.

He said the contract calls for the launcher to be ready for testing in 18 months.

It is to fit into the same submarine tubes that were originally made to fire nuclear-tipped Trident intercontinental missiles. The nuclear warheads are to replaced with conventional weapons to comply with the START II disarmament treaty.

Eventually, the launcher will be modified to fire seven Tomahawks from a single Trident launch tube.

Northrop Grumman will share the work with its partner in the contract, General Dynamic Co.'s Electric Boat division in Groton, Conn.

Greer said the loss of the submarine launcher contract will have no impact on employment at Middle River. About 15 engineers were working on the program.

"We thought this would be an opportunity for us," he said, "but it didn't work out. Yes, we are disappointed." Greer said that employment at Middle River has doubled in the past two years. "We have 700 workers, and we are stable right now," he said.

The new launchers will be used on Ohio-class submarines, which are commonly referred to by Navy personnel as "boomers."

Armed with two dozen Trident missiles, these submarines are designed to hide in the ocean for months at a time, deterring a potential nuclear attack on the United States by their threat of counterattack.

The Tomahawk has become one of the Pentagon's favorite weapons. Armed with conventional explosives, it works like a flying bomb. After launch, it looks for landmarks on the ground to steer it to its target. Tomahawks have been playing a major role in the Pentagon's war on terrorism.

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