Aerospace contract to be an economic boom for the area

Signal SCV  | October 31, 2015 – 

After the U.S. Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation with a contract to build the nation’s new Long-Range Strike Bomber, local officials applauded the pact saying it will have a long lasting economic affect in the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys.

“There’s going to be 1,100 new Northrop jobs in Palmdale,” said SCV Congressman Steve Knight. “When you add jobs at the sub-contractors; ancillary jobs that help manufacture the parts, we’re expecting another 2,000 jobs.”

Awarding the contract to Northrop surprised industry experts. The loser of the high-stakes bidding contest was a team formed by Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. – thought to have a better chance at winning the contract.

Northrop has a 35-year relationship with the Air Force, it said in a press release.

This is a highly classified, $80 billion project designed to replace the aging bomber fleet with an information-age aircraft that eventually may be capable of flying without a pilot aboard.

Landing the contract is likely the result of legislative efforts in the state to lure aerospace back to the state, experts say. But, the journey “was a long, long road to get the job done,” Knight said.

Before being elected to Congress, Knight was behind two state bills to support the industry before it lost anymore aerospace activity. In its heyday, the aerospace industry was one of the largest employers in Southern California in the 80s.

“We first started talking to the Governor about this when we got wind of the plans to build a new bomber,” Knight said. “Other states like Florida and Texas were ahead of the curve in attracting the contract and we said ‘we have to get going.’ ”

Knight’s senate bill included targeted tax credits tied to actual job creation.

While Lockheed and Boeing may appeal the contract award, once the appeal time has run out the Pentagon will begin to release actual numbers allotted to the long-range bomber project.

At that time the Air Force can release the numbers and project specifics, but it’s estimated this contract could involve building up to 100 aircraft, Knight said. Each bomber is expected to cost around $564 million, Knight’s congressional office said.

The Northrop Grumman contract awarded Tuesday is for an initial set of 21 planes, plus $23.5 billion in engineering and development costs. The estimated total cost to develop and purchase the full fleet would be $80 billion.

Many Santa Clarita residents and businesses work for, and with, Northrop. The contract is expected to become a 20- to 30-year relationship with the Air Force, to last the lifespan of the new bomber.

An executive with Curtiss-Wright, which already works as a subcontractor in Santa Clarita for the aerospace and defense firm, congratulated Northrop Grumman on being selected to build the US Air Force’s next-generation bomber.

While the defense subcontractor doesn’t yet know if it will be part of the new project, it’s already providing support to Northrop. It’s been a long time supplier of the open architecture electronic subsystems for Northrop working on programs such as the Global Hawk and Triton unmanned aerial system aircraft.

But, Northrop’s contract could potentially mean more local jobs at Curtiss-Wright in Santa Clarita.

“Curtiss-Wright is pleased that Northrop Grumman has also been selected to build the open architecture-based LRS-B,” Lynn Bamford, senior vice president and general manager, Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions said in an email. “The new bomber’s cost-effective open architecture approach will help to rapidly deliver the latest technologies to our warfighters.”

The new bomber is a high Air Force priority because the oldest ones in its fleet — the venerable B-52s — have far outlived their expected service life and even the newest — the B-2 stealth bombers — having been flying for more than two decades. A third bomber, the B-1, is used heavily for conventional strikes, but no longer is certified for nuclear missions.

Knight pointed out that Palmdale is accustomed to having aerospace projects ramp up quickly and Northrop is already building the Global Hawk – manned and unmanned drones used for combat and surveillance missions, he said.

“This is an economic driver for the region,” Knight said. “This is a boom.”

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