Lockheed Martin will build Navy's unmanned underwater vehicles

RIVIERA BEACH, Calif., 7 Oct. 2005. Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Maritime Systems and Sensors business in Riviera Beach is expanding after receiving a $30.2 million contract to build unmanned underwater vehicles for the U.S. Navy.

Oct 7th, 2005

RIVIERA BEACH, Calif., 7 Oct. 2005. Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Maritime Systems and Sensors business in Riviera Beach is expanding after receiving a $30.2 million contract to build unmanned underwater vehicles for the U.S. Navy.

The company expects to receive the money over 34 months, but the Navy plans to buy 60 such vehicles over 10 to 13 years could bring as much as $500 million to the plant.

"The Navy is trying to upgrade its remote capabilities. A ship can only do so much, but this extends its range by giving it this remote capability," said Vice President Jim Weitzel, who is in charge of the local plant.

Under the contract signed last week with the Navy, Lockheed is building two vehicles.

The first remote, unmanned craft would be launched from a ship and equipped with sensing devices to find and map mines in sea lanes and large waterways.

Shaped like a torpedo with a tail sticking out of the water, it would transmit data and pictures to the ship before returning. A similar vehicle was used to clear mines in the port of Um Kasr in the Iraq War so the Navy could resupply American troops.

"The sensors in these devices allow us to detect potential threats while maintaining sufficient standoff range for our manned patrols," Navy spokesman Landon Hutchens said.

The second vehicle -- also torpedo-shaped but without a tail -- is launched from a submarine.

Its purpose is to find mines as well, but its payload of sensors can be changed to take on reconnaissance and surveillance missions. Weitzel said it's reasonable to expect that the vehicle could be used for anti-terrorism missions.

As a result of the Navy's program, Lockheed's Maritime Systems will expand from 263 engineers, technicians and support employees to 363. The first round of the new hires will be 20 engineers and will take place as soon as possible. The rest of the hiring will occur over almost three years.

The plant, formerly owned by Perry Technologies, has been growing since the mid-1990s under a $140 million program to design and develop underwater vehicles for the military.

With the latest contract, production can begin, Weitzel said. "We have been and are hiring," he said. "We've been growing for a while now... There are a lot of new programs from the government that we have the skill sets for."

Later this month, the Palm Beach County Commission is expected to vote on a $363,000 job-incentive grant and as much as $1.8 million in state tax refunds for Lockheed as a qualified defense contractor.

To qualify for the incentive dollars and tax relief, the company must agree to retain the new jobs for at least 60 months. The good news for the area is that the new jobs are for highly paid engineers and technicians; the average salary is $65,000 a year.

"It's definitely one of our cluster industries -- a cluster industry we're trying to grow," Assistant County Administrator Verdenia Baker said. "A lot of their work is for homeland security."

Source: The Palm Beach Post

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