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Dynetics Builds First Real Ray Gun for the Army

An artist’s concept of the High Energy Laser Tactical Vehicle that Dynetics will integrate by combining a laser weapon developed by Lockheed Martin and a heavy combat vehicle built by Rolls-Royce LibertyWorks.

Martian invaders beamed fiery destruction on Earth in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, first published in 1897, 20 years in advance of the quantum theories of Albert Einstein, whose extremely excitable photons became the scientific basis of ray guns.

Reeling forward through Buck Rogers, Star Trek and Star Wars, it seems like we’ve been living with ray guns forever — when, in fact, the Department of Defense is just now developing the first such weapons that could be practical on the battlefield.

The first field artillery laser weapon is what Dynetics expects to build for the U.S. Army. The Huntsville company was named the prime contractor for the weapon — the High Energy Laser Tactical Vehicle — with the award, in May, of a $130 million contract to the team of Dynetics and Lockheed Martin.

“It is the outgrowth of a lot of work the SMDC (Space and Missile Defense Command) did in directed energy work,” says Ronnie Chronister, Dynetics senior vice president of contracts. “People for a long time thought of it as a Star Wars type weapon, but the technology had to be improved for something that could be put on a vehicle and used as a weapons system.”

The “Star Wars” Chronister refers to is not the movie, but the ambitious missile defense system of Ronald Reagan known officially as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and popularized as Reagan’s Star Wars program.

“I used to be a threat assessment guy at the (Redstone) Arsenal,” says Scott Stanfield, director of strategic programs at Dynetics, referring to his Star Wars years working at the Missile and Space Intelligence Center. “That was 30 years ago, when they were dealing with big liquid lasers the size of buildings. You have to look at those threats, and so you need a building to set up the power generation dissipation. Clearly, there has been a lot of development in the last 30 years since that time, to get to fiber lasers at the 100K power level mounted on a tactical platform. The technology had to catch up.”

“Fantastical” rather than “ambitious” might be more apt for the SDI laser program, which called for an array of space-based laser weapons that would detect and deter any nukes fired at the U.S. A 1987 study by the American Physical Society concluded that none of the prospective systems were anywhere close to deployment. Energy output had to be increased by 100 times to sometimes a million times to be conceivable.

It takes a lot of light — photons — and you have to get them extremely excited, as Einstein put it, as well as deliver them with precision over considerable distances.

Firing them from outer space is still far fetched, except for the aspirations of the defense industry. In March, defense officials asked for $304 million to fund research into space-based lasers next year — motivated by a new generation of super fast, hypersonic missile threats. “Hypersonic” means faster than the speed of sound, and lasers fly at the much greater speed of light. “But just figuring out what might work is a difficult technical challenge,” reported defenseone.com.

Developing a laser that has enough power and accuracy for use on the battlefield has not been easy either, but it is now close to reality, say Dynetics officials.

The contract that Dynetics won began with an Army Request for Proposals for a 100 kW laser on the back of a rugged army truck. Dynetics was one of six companies that responded by putting their concepts on paper. The competition was narrowed down to two, Dynetics and Raytheon, in the preliminary design phase before the final award, which is to develop the system and make a demonstrator by fiscal year 2022.

“People for a long time thought of it as a Star Wars type weapon,” says Ronnie Chronister, Dynetics senior vice president of contracts, “but the technology had to be improved for something that could be put on a vehicle and used as a weapons system.”

One key to Dynetics’ contract win, says Chronister, was the company’s location near Redstone Arsenal. “I think that was a big deal: to do the work right outside their gate,” he says.

But the foremost advantage to the win, says Chronister, was teaming with Lockheed Martin. Lockheed’s Laser and Sensor Systems division in Bothell, Washington, is “the frontrunner in the development of the laser beam and control. They know how to track and control that beam and put the right amount of power onto the target,” says Chronister.

In 2017, Lockheed unveiled a world record-setting laser weapon, sporting a 58 kW laser beam. “We have shown that a powerful directed energy laser is now sufficiently light-weight, low volume and reliable enough to be deployed on tactical vehicles for defensive applications on land, at sea and in the air,” said Robert Afzal, Lockheed’s senior fellow in Bothell.

Now Lockheed is bringing the power up to 100 kW, and Dynetics will be tasked with mounting it on an Army truck and showing that it works.

For the Army truck, the Dynetics contract team includes partner Rolls-Royce LibertyWorks, which will also design the integrated power and thermal management system to meet requirements for the High Energy Laser Tactical Vehicle.

Dynetics will be in charge of putting all the pieces together and demonstrating that it works.

That it works, that is, on the battlefield, which means knocking out weapons large and small that threaten Army missile defenses on the ground.

The weapon Dynetics will put together and test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico by the delivery date of FY2022 is designed “to defeat UAF (unmanned flying vehicles) and mortar fire and intended to protect air defenses, Patriot and THAAD missiles, field air defense assets,” says Chronister. “We will help to define the requirements, and once that is done, they develop a more formal program to build several of these.”

The great advantage of such a weapon comes in reducing the cost of defending missile emplacements from attack by much smaller weapons, including mortar rounds and swarms of UAVs.

“The systems now employed use rockets for shooting down rockets and rockets for shooting down UAVs,” says Chronister. “Initial capability deployed will counter those threats. Beauty of the directed energy solution is that once you get it right, the cost per kill is a lot lower.”

Cost, says Stanfield, can be reduced to something comparable to $50 mortar rounds, and with a high-energy weapon, there will be “much deeper magazines,” a lot of rounds.

Chris McFadyen is the editorial director of Business Alabama.

Lockheed, Dynetics, Alabama Lead U.S. Hypersonic Initiatives

Dynetics Technical Solutions’ concept of the hypersonic system’s sonic boom.

Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $347 million multi-year hypersonic weapons development contract from the U.S. Army to develop and integrate a land-based hypersonic strike prototype.

The effort is part of the Army’s modernization priority — long range precision fires — and administered by the Army Hypersonic Project Office, part of the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office.

Lockheed’s team includes Dynetics Technical Solutions, Integration Innovation Inc.., Verity Integrated Systems, Martinez & Turek and Penta Research.

“Lockheed Martin is driving rapid technical development for these national priority programs,” said Eric Scherff, vice president for Hypersonic Strike Programs for Lockheed Martin Space. “There are natural synergies with our industry teammates. We believe our relationships offer the Army unmatched expertise and puts us in the best position to deliver this critical capability to the nation.”

Dynetics Technical Solutions, of Huntsville, also has been awarded a $351.6 million contract by the Army to produce Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) prototypes over the next three years.

Under the contract, DTS, collaborating with Sandia National Laboratories, will produce 20 glide body assemblies for use by the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and the Missile Defense Agency, with an option for additional quantities.

The Army LRHW prototype will leverage the C-HGB and introduce a new class of ultrafast, maneuverable, long-range missiles that can launch from ground mobile platforms. The LRHW system will deliver residual combat capability to soldiers by 2023.

“Dynetics Technical Solutions is pleased to partner with Lockheed Martin on this national defense priority. The Common-Hypersonic Glide Body and Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon programs will modernize our national capabilities and will counter the threat from our foreign adversaries. We are looking forward to the progress our teams will make as we deliver this combat capability to the warfighter,” said Steve Cook, DTS president.

As the prime contractor on the C-HGB, DTS is responsible for supplier management, procurement, assembly, integration and testing, electrical and mechanical manufacturing and systems engineering for the C-HGB. Others working on the project include General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, who will complete the assembly, integration and test at their North Alabama locations.

General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems will provide cable, electrical and mechanical manufacturing. Lockheed Martin will support in manufacturing, assembly, integration, test, systems engineering and analysis. Raytheon will use its extensive experience in advanced hypersonic technology to build and deliver the control, actuation and power-conditioning subassemblies that control flight of the glide body. Raytheon also will help assemble and test the new glide body.

DTS, as part of the LRHW contract, will develop launchers with hydraulics, outriggers, power generation and distribution for the ground platform, in addition to flight test and training support.

Both of these awards total $407.6 million for DTS. Lockheed Martin’s portion of the program will be performed at facilities in Alabama, Colorado, California and Texas. Lockheed Martin’s hypersonic strike awards exceed over $2.5 billion across the corporation.

Contract to Test Survivability of the U.S. Against Nukes

Lockheed Martin’s Huntsville offices will be the place for testing the survivability of U.S. defenses against nuclear attack, in accordance with a $240 million contract awarded recently by the Missile Defense Agency.

The contract calls for Lockheed and a battery of subcontractors with Alabama offices to use modeling and simulation assessments to determine if the “extremely complicated” elements of the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) — once popularly known as the “missile shield” — will work against existing and evolving threats. The work will “provide critical data to assess the operational effectiveness and survivability of the BMDS and its elements,” said Lockheed’s release.

The contract — called the Modeling and Simulation Contract – Framework and Tools (MASC-F) — directs contractors to use computer-generated modeling and simulation to “forecast how our complex and interconnected Ballistic Missile Defense System will operate in a real-world environment,” the release said.

“Testing the different elements of the Ballistic Missile Defense System together is an extremely complicated process,” said JD Hammond, vice president of C4ISR Systems for Lockheed Martin. “MASC-F will enable the MDA to run ‘what-if’ scenarios before fielding new configurations to ensure the warfighter gets the most effective system possible.”

According to Missile Defense Agency estimates, Congress has appropriated over $200 billion for the agency’s programs between fiscal years 1985 and 2019. The $240 million MASC-F contract to test the whole system, therefore, represents 0.12 percent of BMDS’s total cost.

“Work on the MASC-F program will be performed at Lockheed Martin’s Huntsville, Alabama facility,” said the company release.

Subcontractors on the work, said Lockheed, will be Northrop Grumman, Dynetics, CohesionForce, PeopleTec, Penta Research, Corvid Technologies, Archarithms, ISYS Technologies and M&M Technical Services Inc.

The new MASC-F contract calls for oversight assessment of the whole missile system, yet Lockheed also has long been a designer and manufacturer of key components of the system.

Lockheed employs about 500 workers at its missile assembly facilities in Pike County, Alabama, where it makes PAC-3 and THAAD missiles.

The Patriot Advance Capability-3 (PAC-3) is designed to defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles in their final stage of attack, at lower altitudes.

Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles are designed to knock out incoming ballistic missiles as they start to descend from their highest trajectory — a difficult feat often described as hitting a bullet with a bullet. The first successful real-world test occurred in 2017.

A Month’s Worth of Defense Contracts in Alabama

June 19, 2019

DTechLogic LLC, a joint venture in Huntsville, was awarded a $255,909,986 contract to provide the infrastructure and cybersecurity engineering necessary to support ballistic missile defense system hardware-in-the-loop and related ground testing in a continuous integration/continuous agile testing environment. The work will be performed in Huntsville. The Missile Defense Agency, in Huntsville, is the contracting agency.

B.L. Harbert International LLC, in Birmingham, was awarded a $67,147,000 contract for a general purpose warehouse at Red River Army Depot, in Texas. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in Fort Worth, Texas, is the contracting agency.

June 20, 2019

Austal USA, of Mobile, was awarded a $13,197,241 contract for littoral combat ship class design services and integrated data and product model environment (IDPME) support. Work will be performed in Mobile, Alabama (60%); and Pittsfield, Massachusetts (40%), and is expected to be complete by June 2025. The Naval Sea Systems Command, in Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

June 21, 2019

Bhate Environmental Associates Inc., of Birmingham, was awarded an $11,382,741 contract for demolition services to plan and execute the removal of buildings and facilities to include the abatement and removal of asbestos. Work will be performed in New Orleans, Louisiana, with an estimated completion date of Aug. 19, 2021. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in Huntsville, is the contracting activity.

June 25, 2019

MCR Federal LLC, of McLean, Virginia, was awarded an $8,135,050 modification to a contract for technical engineering support services. Work will be performed in Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, with an estimated completion date of June 29, 2020. U.S. Army Contracting Command, at Redstone Arsenal, is the contracting activity.

June 26, 2019

Gibralter-Caddell, a joint venture based in Montgomery, was one of 10 bidders approved to compete for a $5,000,000,000 firm-fixed-price contract for construction services for the Department of Homeland Security, in Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, Del Rio, Big Bend and El Paso Border Patrol sectors. Estimated completion date is June 24, 2024. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, of Fort Worth, Texas, is the contracting activity.

June 28, 2019

Remote Diagnostic Technologies LLC, of Huntsville, has been awarded a maximum $100,000,000 firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for patient monitoring systems, accessories and training. Location of performance is New York and Alabama, with a June 27, 2024 performance completion date. The contracting activity is the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

July 2, 2019

Yulista Support Services, of Huntsville, was awarded a $226,911,155 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for maintenance and modifications of C5ISR flight activity platforms. Work locations and funding will be determined with each order, with an estimated completion date of June 19, 2024. U.S. Army Contracting Command, of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, is the contracting activity

July 10, 2019

Wyle Laboratories Inc., of Huntsville, is being awarded an $81,220,643 contract for certified and qualified operational contractor support services aircrew to support mission essential testing and evaluation of all manned air vehicles under the operational responsibility of the Naval Test Wing Atlantic/Pacific squadrons. The Naval Air Systems Command, of Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity.

It’s Good to be Lockheed Martin: Combat Systems, Cruise Missiles, Jobs Galore

Lockheed Martin’s 40-year run as engineer for the Navy’s Aegis Combat System gives it an edge in competing for the combat system for the new Navy frigate.

Defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin said early this summer that it won’t take part in the race to design the U.S. Navy’s new frigate, planning instead to concentrate on supplying combat systems for whatever design eventually wins.

Lockheed Martin, which on one recent day had 272 job openings in Alabama listed on its website, broke ground in May for a new 225,000-square-foot facility to build cruise missiles for the U.S. Air Force. LM officials plan for it to be complete by 2021. The company’s Missiles and Fire Control division employs about 500 workers in Troy.

On the frigate front, LM and four other companies (General Dynamics, Austal USA, Huntington Ingalls and Fincantieri Marinette Marine) each got $15 million to do a conceptual design for a new Guided Missile Frigate FFG(X). The eventual winner looks to take home more than $15 billion to build 20 of the vessels.

By June, the company had said in a statement that it had decided instead to “focus our attention on the FFG(X) combat system, delivering Lockheed Martin technologies, such as the Aegis-derived weapon system, MK 41 Vertical Launching System, anti-submarine warfare processing, and advanced electronic warfare.”

While some considered LM to be a long shot in winning the frigate design race, its Aegis weapons are already almost standard on Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The Navy has indicated that it wants the new frigate to pack more punch than its Littoral Combat Ship program.

Alabama has two potential winners in the race, given Austal USA’s address in Mobile and Ingalls Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries in nearby Pascagoula, Mississippi. Industry observers have said giving the work to either Austal or Fincantieri’s Wisconsin shipyard would help avoid the worsening of military contractor monopolies.

Defense Contractor Attains Employee-Owned Propulsion

Co-founder Bill Roark, President and CEO John Watson and Chief Technology Officer Joe Hill, with the 3D imaging headsets used to view some Torch products. Photos by Dennis Keim

Torch Technologies has ranked among the nation’s fastest growing companies 12 years in a row. It’s recognized as a great place to work and it wins kudos among employee-owned companies.

The reason for the recognition? President and CEO John Watson says it’s in the nature of the business organization itself: They take employee-ownership seriously.

Watson and Torch co-founders Bill Roark and Don Holder had all previously worked for Nichols Research Corp., a large missile defense company in Huntsville that went public in the late 1990s and was later sold. Roark and Holder suddenly found themselves unable to honor commitments made to employees. Much affected by that experience, Roark and Holder began to discuss starting their own company — one that, to avoid a repeat of what had happened to their employees at Nichols, would eventually be entirely employee-owned. In 2002, they created Torch.

“Don was in his mid-sixties when he helped found the company,” Roark recalls, “so we knew he’d be exiting, and we needed a path that would allow us to buy a founder out without having to sell the company.”

In 2005, when they had reached 50 employees, they implemented an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). From that point on, “everyone got a stock option, so they could exercise ownership in the company when that option matured,” says Roark. By 2010, employee ownership of the company had reached 40 percent, and Roark and Holder met their goal of 100 percent employee ownership at the end of 2011.

Torch Technologies President and CEO John Watson, at company headquarters in Huntsville.

Today, Torch is one of the nation’s top 100 defense services companies, and for the most part has seen consistent annual growth of 30-40 percent since its founding. The company expects to generate around $470 million this fiscal year. Based in Huntsville owing to its proximity to U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, Torch has expanded to 15 other locations, including Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Texas, the Marshall Islands and Egypt.

“John came on board in 2009, and one of his first goals was to expand us outside of Huntsville,” says Roark. “I’d say he’s succeeded.”

The company also has evolved from being services-only to offering solutions. To accommodate that transition, Torch broke ground last year on a 45,000-square-foot facility, the Technology, Integration and Prototyping Center.

“We’re doing some novel things in that area,” says Watson, like developing next-generation instrumentation for capturing warhead tests. “We’re also doing a lot of work in obsolescence and re-engineering,” he continues, citing the company’s work on early-warning detection radar systems. Other projects include building repair stations and tech repair manuals for subsystems on the CH-47 Chinook helicopter and developing virtual training products.

“We’re also seeing some opportunities to take some of our defense development technologies outside into the commercial sector,” says Watson. “We’re proud of the platform we’ve built, and we take advantage of that to address more complicated problems that are out there. We’re in a military community, and we take very seriously our mission in terms of providing capabilities to our warfighters and bringing them home safely.”

That dedication extends beyond the company’s professional services; Torch also is deeply committed to community outreach. “We really feel that the cornerstones of our company are, of course, our employee owners and our customers, but the community is part of that, too. If we want to have a healthy workforce, we need to have a healthy community.”

“That’s something our employees take a lot of pride in,” adds Roark.

Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies — 12 years in a row
Washington Technology — Top 100 government contractors
Bloomberg Government — Top 200
Entrepreneur 360 — Ranked #11
Great Places to Work & Fortune — 4 years in a row
Best Workplaces for Millennials — 3 years in a row
ESOP Company of the Year, New South — 2018
Best Places to Work in Huntsville — Listed 5 times

In 2005, the company’s employee owners formed a 501(c)(3) organization, Torch Helps, to support non-profit organizations that assist underserved communities. One requirement: the charity selected to receive the $10,000 grant must operate in the area of a Torch employee’s residence. The program solicits applications quarterly, a Torch Helps committee reviews each application to ensure requirements are met and then provides a list of recommendations to the board of directors. Finally, employees vote on the board’s selections. Torch Technologies covers all of the administrative costs of Torch Helps, ensuring that all donations go directly to the organizations selected by the employees.

“The impact we’ve had on improving things for the warfighter and the soldier, you know, we’re very proud of that,” says Roark. But he points out that Torch doesn’t often get to see those impacts firsthand. “When you see a kid get a scholarship for college because of a local program you’ve funded and [one day] you’re trading emails with him as he’s making the dean’s list — those are the kinds of things that really tug at your heartstrings. And it’s really the employees,” he’s quick to add. “They’ve built the foundation for the company to be able to do that successfully.”

On April 30, Torch Technologies attended the unveiling of the Wounded Warrior-Combat Medic Statue at the Huntsville-Madison County Veterans Memorial, a project it sponsored. Military veterans from the company stood behind the statue during the dedication ceremony.

“The military is very important to us and recognizing and honoring them is very important to us,” says Roark. The company’s name and logo are inspired by the Statue of Liberty, he points out. Their Huntsville facility is called the Freedom Center. “You can’t get lost in terms of trying to figure out what we’re about.”

Katherine MacGilvray and Dennis Keim are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Huntsville.

Inside the Battle to Build Warships

Photos by Mike Kittrell

Inside the cavernous Module Manufacturing Facility at Austal USA, a thick sheet of uncut aluminum enters the production line. Fourteen months later, that same piece of metal will exit the 700,000-square-foot facility as part of a module, or a building block, of one of the world’s most sophisticated military vessels.

From there, the module will be shuttled to an assembly bay down the road by multi-axle transporters, capable of moving modules weighing more than 400 tons. It’s in the assembly bay that these building blocks, lifted into place by crane and welded to an existing framework, will slowly begin to resemble a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).

The speedy, shallow-water LCS has been a familiar sight on the Mobile River for almost a decade. At the end of 2010, the U.S. Navy awarded Austal a block-buy contract for the construction of 10 LCS Independence-class ships. Over the intervening years, they have ordered an additional nine.

Standing beside LCS-22, the recently christened USS Kansas City, Austal USA President Craig Perciavalle reflects on the LCS program.

“We’re delivering ships on budget and on schedule,” Perciavalle says. “We’re putting them out fast and furious.”

Of the 19 LCS ships Austal is contracted to construct for the U.S. Navy, nine have been delivered and another six — LCS 20, 22, 24, 26, 28 and 30 — are in various stages of construction. Lockheed Martin is building an almost equal number of LCSs under a different design — Freedom-class — at a shipyard in Wisconsin.

Founded in 1999, Austal USA is a subsidiary of Australian-based Austal Limited. Its shipbuilding facility has become a staple of the Mobile waterfront, occupying 164 acres on the eastern shore of the Mobile River.

With 4,000 employees, Austal is the sixth largest industrial employer in the state, a standing owing, in large part, to the company’s ability to land high-profile contracts with the U.S. Navy. Following the procurement of a contract in 2008 to build 10 Joint High Speed Vessel ships (now known as Expeditionary Fast Transport vessels) and the LCS contract in 2010, Austal was able to make $160 million in capital investments to its facility along the Mobile River, while adding 3,100 employees.

But the LCS program hasn’t been without controversy. When cost increases, schedule delays and concerns about the vessel’s survivability in combat cast a shadow of doubt in the early years of the contract, Perciavalle remained determined to adhere to any changes the Navy deemed necessary.

“As the requirements were maturing with the Navy and, quite frankly, as we were going through the design maturity process, there were a lot of challenges,” Perciavalle says. “We’ve certainly overcome them now.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, whose district includes the massive shipbuilder, says he’s proud of the way Austal has coordinated with the Navy on LCS.

“The LCS program has truly been a team effort between the Navy and Austal. As with any new program, there have been challenges, but the Navy and industry have worked together on tackling setbacks and evolving the ship’s capabilities to best serve the Navy’s requirements.”

Austal USA President Craig Perciavalle says his firm has “the best workforce in the country” to build warships at a “fast and furious” pace.

LCS Woes

In 2014, cuts in military expenditures and concerns about the vessel’s combat power put the LCS program in the spotlight. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed the establishment of the Small Surface Combatant Task Force to review the viability of LCS and to explore possible design modifications.

In 2016, following a spate of LCS breakdowns, two of which were owing to sailor error, the Navy ordered a handful of changes to the vessel, aiming to improve its combat punch. The Navy also set out to reevaluate sailor training.

Designed for speed and flexibility, one of the signature traits of the LCS design was its modularity — the ability to swap out weapons and sensors to suit a particular mission. Critics, citing the sailor error breakdowns, accuse the Navy of wanting the ship to be more versatile than was practical.

The LCS program illustrates several of the challenges associated with fulfilling a contract for the Department of Defense.

“They’re the most demanding customer on the planet, and they should be, quite frankly,” Perciavalle says. “The vessels that we build do pretty important stuff in support of our nation’s defense, and the number one priority is having ships that are very capable to do that and also understanding that we have sailors that are sailing on these ships. So there’s a lot of demand put on us or any defense contractor.”

It’s important to recognize, Perciavalle says, that a client like the U.S. Navy has evolving needs.

“There’s no doubt that, as years go by, the Navy requirements change because the threat could change,” he says. “The beauty about our ships is that we have the adaptability to actually flex the capabilities of the ships and to adapt them to increases or changes in requirements. That’s the beauty of a multi-hull vessel.”

Of course, unexpected modifications required by the Navy can affect cost estimates for government contractors. In 2016, following Navy shock trials on the USS Jackson (LCS-6), Austal entered into a trading halt and issued an earnings announcement warning about an increase in its cost estimate for future hulls “due to design changes required to achieve shock certification and US Naval Vessel Rules.” The modifications required on the USS Jackson and 10 other ships under construction resulted in a full-year loss for fiscal 2016.

Furthermore, in January of this year, Austal confirmed in a release filed through the Australian Stock Exchange that it was “assisting an investigation by ASIC into market announcements by the Company with respect to earnings from its Littoral Combat Ship program.” The investigation is said to be focused on statements Austal issued in 2015 relating to cost increases during the construction of the USS Jackson. In regards to the investigation, Perciavalle says that Austal is “supporting the process.”

Looking ahead to 2020

In February 2018, Austal was one of five companies awarded a $15 million contract for conceptual design of the Navy’s new guided-missile frigate. The FFG(X) program, which the Navy is developing as it phases out LCS, seeks the construction of 20 frigates with more lethality. The multi-billion-dollar contract is slated to be awarded in 2020. Austal is proposing a variation of its aluminum Independence-class LCS, leveraging the ability of the multi-hull vessel to accommodate new frigate requirements without drastically changing the existing production process.

“We’ve got a whole team internally here in Mobile that is working on the concept design for frigate,” Perciavalle says. “That collaborative environment has been very, very good. So there’s been a lot of good dialogue making sure we understand the requirements the Navy has and making sure the Navy understands things that can be leveraged in our parent design, so that they can leverage that and help develop a cost-effective solution.”

The impact of winning the 2020 contract, which could guarantee years of production following the conclusion of the LCS program, can hardly be overstated. The Navy is considering awarding the contract to a single builder. The ramifications of not winning the contract would be felt in Mobile and across the state, which is home to almost 400 of Austal’s suppliers.

“To us, it’s a competition,” Perciavalle says, “and you know what, we’ve been in competitions since, certainly, the first day I got here.

“We have the best team in the country here working on these ships,” he continues. “The work ethic, the pride, the ownership in what’s happening has really enabled us to improve performance dramatically over the years and really enabled us to provide a cost-effective solution to the Navy.”

Perciavalle points out four areas of focus when looking at the future of Austal USA. “Expeditionary ships, small surface combatants, unmanned autonomous [vessels] and the service business,” he says. “All of which have plenty of opportunity and all of which we’re in a very good position to excel in.

“We have to continue to mature and continue to build. That’s our culture, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do going forward.”

Breck Pappas and Mike Kittrell are Mobile-based freelance contributors to Business Alabama.

Key U.S. Missile Factory Redoubled in Pike County

Troy County, Alabama-made Lockheed air-launched cruise missile AGM-158 JASSM Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile on exhibition at the ILA Berlin Air Show in 2018.

Pike County is where the newest strategic missile in the U.S. arsenal is manufactured, and production will soon ramp up more than double in response to president Donald Trump’s proposed $750 billion 2020 defense budget.

Pike County is home to Lockheed Martin’s primary facility for making JASSM missiles, the most advanced air-to-ground missile.

On May 16, Lockheed breaks ground on a second Pike County JASSM manufacturing facility, a 225,000-square-foot plant that joins a 160,000-square-foot missile-making factory that completed an earlier expansion in 2014.

The original Pike County missile facility was established in 1994 “as a revolutionary production center focused on manufacturing the most advanced tactical missiles to serve the missions of the company’s domestic and international allies,” says Jason Crager, Lockheed’s site director for Pike County Operations. “We are the sole integrator of this (JASSM) weapon system,” said Crager.

The new facility that “will allow us to meet customer’s needs, the U.S. government, for increased quantity over the life of the program,” said Crager, increasing the total from “4,900 to 7,200 missiles.” The president’s 2020 budget proposal called for the increase, he added.

Missile assembly at the new factory will begin in the third quarter 2022. Employment will increase by 22 workers this year and another 55 employees in the third year, in addition to the some 500 workers Lockheed currently employs in Pike County.

According to defense analysts, the JASSM is a large, stealthy long-range cruise missile that gives the U.S. military an edge for precise surprise attacks against targets well protected by enemy air defenses. The missile can strike more than 500 miles away. Estimated cost is $1.4 million each.

The missile has been under development since 1995, but only recently has it been deployed in combat — with a few JASSMs among a barrage of U.S., British and French missiles fired in a one-off attack on Syrian government forces in April, 2018.

The U.S. — the world’s number one weapons dealer — has approved foreign sales of the JASSM to the military of Australia, Finland and Poland, but not to the number one U.S. weapons customer, Saudia Arabia.

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