Grumman to bid on new Navy bomber


Grumman Corp., the nation's smallest military airplane maker, has teamed with two industry giants -- Lockheed Corp. and the Boeing Co. -- to compete for a Navy contract to build the next generation of carrier bombers, the Bethpage, N.Y.-based company announced yesterday.

The plane that the Grumman team will be bidding on is in the conceptual planning stages.

Designated the AX, the new plane is designed to replace the A-6 carrier-based attack bomber that dates to the Vietnam War. The Navy was developing the A-12 for this role, but Defense Secretary Dick Cheney canceled that program earlier this year when it fell behind schedule and rose over budget.

The Navy is expected to issue requests for proposals for the concept exploration phase of the AX program sometime next month. These contracts will begin to narrow and define the focus of the plane, according to Susan Supak, a spokeswoman for the Naval Air Systems Command.

The new plane is not expected to become operational until the early part of the 21st century, according to the Navy.

John A. Vosilla, a Grumman spokesman, said a victory by the Grumman team would have "an incredibly positive affect" on the company but added that it is still too soon to say how it might affect individual plants.

Grumman executives have warned Maryland's congressional delegation in the past that the fate of its future as an aircraft manufacturer and the on-going operations of its plants in Glen Arm and Salisburyare linked to its winning of a major new contract.

The company had hoped to build an upgraded version of its F-14 Tomcat but never got a Pentagon order.

Grumman's Baltimore County machining plant produces structural parts used in the company's aircraft as well as some other subcontract work. As a result of an end to F-14 work at the plant, it has laid off about 100 workers in recent years to reduce its total work force to about 170.

The Salisbury plant makes wiring harnesses used in aircraft and employs about 400 workers.

Grumman's production of the F-14 and two other Navy planes is scheduled to end by next year if new orders are not received.

The Navy has declined to say how many planes it will order under the AX program.

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