Middle River unveils new missile project

Lockheed Martin plant will make them for Army and Navy

May 01, 2007|By Allison Connolly | Allison Connolly,Sun reporter

The "C" Building on Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Middle River campus churned out Mace and Matador guided missiles during the 1940s and 1950s, Pershing Missile Launchers during the 1960s and Patriot Missile Launchers during the 1970s. Yesterday, Lockheed officials unveiled its latest reincarnation: Non-Line Of Sight missile launchers for the Army and Navy.

It's new business for the campus and allowed Bethesda-based Lockheed to expand its work force there by 20 percent to 650 - a far cry from the more than 53,000 who built 120 military planes a month at its peak in 1943 during World War II.

Today, Lockheed leases a portion of the nearly 70-year-old "C" Building to a warehousing company.

The $1.1 billion contract was awarded in 2004 to a joint venture between Lockheed and Raytheon Co. called NetFires LLC. Middle River has 10 percent of the contract. About 100 engineers and production staff have been designing the launchers there, and 50 workers will begin producing them. The company plans to hire an additional 35 workers for the program.

"You're seeing a strategy come to fruition here in this facility," Fred Moosally, president of Lockheed's Maritime Systems and Sensors division, told a gathering of workers and dignitaries yesterday. "If we're going to have a future here in Baltimore and at this Middle River facility ... we have to do things differently."

The new launcher, which is a component of the Army's modernization program, Future Combat Systems, can be remotely controlled and hit a moving target over the horizon up to 40 kilometers away.

The initial production contract, which grew out of a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Defense Department's research arm, is for 30 launchers, but the military has said it could order as many as 1,400.

For the Army, the launchers will be built in large, khaki-colored steel containers that contain 15 missiles and will sit on the back of Humvees or be set up independently in the battlefield. For the Navy, the launchers will be installed aboard littoral combat ships and one day could appear on remotely controlled unmanned ships.

Lockheed invested $3.7 million rehabbing the 22,000-square- foot space and incorporating new technology in the manufacturing process, which the company hopes will cut costs and improve production. Officers from the Army and Navy got a first look at the facility yesterday.

One big difference is it's paperless: Radio frequency identification technology, or RFID, tracks parts, assemblies and finished units by bar code, allowing workers to spot bottlenecks from bench-side laptops. It's a key initiative the Defense Department has been pushing vendors and contractors to adopt to improve efficiency.

"They don't always make the investment," said Col. Douglas Dever, the Army's project manager for the launchers.

A stocking machine fills gray bins with the tools each worker needs at the start of a shift, and then returns it to the right shelf when the employee punches out. Heavy equipment is attached to the ceiling so workers don't have to do any heavy lifting. A workbench with a crank rotates larger pieces of metal.

Murals on the walls depict scenes where the launchers will be used: from a ship, on the back of a Humvee, and on the battlefield, dropped from a helicopter near patrolling soldiers.

"When you walk into it [the new facility], you feel like you're out on the field," said Stephanie Hill, Baltimore site general manager for Lockheed's Littoral Ships & Systems division.

Last month, the Navy canceled the second of two littoral combat ships being built by Bethesda-based Lockheed because of cost overruns. Capt. Michael Good, who oversees the launcher program for the Navy, said the investments Lockheed made in the facility should cut costs on this program.

The contract protects manufacturing jobs at Middle River. One longtime program, the ship-based MK 41 Vertical Launching System, is made only for foreign navies now. Last month, the company won a contract from its 11th foreign customer, extending production through 2012.

"Most of the skills required on NLOS are equivalent or identical to VLS," Hill said.

Dan Schultz, vice president and general manager of Lockheed's Littoral Ships and Systems unit, said the new launcher facility should serve as a template for manufacturing at Lockheed.

"We're trying to show the Navy and military that technology can help manufacturing," he said.

allison.connolly@baltsun.com

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