Northrop, Lockheed vie for new ship

Navy gives rival firms leeway in design of coastal combat vessel

February 11, 2003|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

Two Baltimore-area defense contractors said yesterday that they are pursuing a contract to develop a new class of speedy, maneuverable ship that will fight the coastal naval battles of the future.

Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. told the U.S. Navy yesterday that they intend to be part of the new Focused Mission Ship program, which calls for the design of the first ship by 2005, and delivery of the first prototype by 2007 - all for $220 million or less.

"It's an amazing ship," Northrop Grumman spokesman Randy Belote said of both the Navy concept and that company's proposed entry in the competition.

Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin said its Marine Systems Division in Baltimore is heading up its project.

Northrop Grumman is based in Los Angeles, but has units in Sykesville and near Baltimore-Washington International Airport - including former elements of Westinghouse Electric Corp. - that will be helping work on its entry in the program. The ship itself will be built in a company shipyard in Mississippi, Belote said.

Part of the Focused Mission Ship program recognizes that many of the sea battles of the future will be fought in shallow coastal waters, said Craig Quigley, a corporate spokesman for Lockheed Martin. These battles might be fought defending a U.S.-controlled port against enemy attack. But it's more likely that ships in this class will help clear out enemy coastal waters, or an enemy port, in advance of an expeditionary force, or even a full-scale invasion, the companies said.

In this role, these ships might have to skirt mines, find and destroy coastal patrol boats, battle diesel submarines or fight back against and knock out coastal defenses, the companies said.

To encourage creative thinking, the Navy avoided creating strict guidelines about the ship's shape, configuration or even its construction, Quigley said. For this phase of the Focused Mission Ship program, the Navy only wanted to see whether the six defense contractors it chose for this program thought that a design could be completed by 2005, and the prototype two years later - for less than the $220 million ceiling, he said.

"This was just the first step," he said.

Lockheed Martin preferred to be somewhat circumspect about the details of its initial design. It said it will combine the technologies and skills it has inside the company with those of its external partners, mentioning Burdeshaw & Associates of Bethesda as one of its key team members.

The Northrop Grumman team held a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington yesterday and gave an early peek at what it hoped to achieve. Instead of a conventional steel ship, Northrop Grumman is licensing an all-composite-materials - and highly stealthy - design from Sweden's Kockums shipyards, Belote said.

The composite construction will help the ship elude radar and evade the mines that are often strewn throughout coastal waters and commonly designed to detect and lock onto steel hulls, he said.

The Kockums design will be modified to meet naval requirements, and then "maximized" with technologies from Northrop's local Combat Systems and Electronic Systems units, Belote said.

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