Lockheed Martin celebrates new contract with Aegis

Posted: March 29, 2013

Even with North Korea threatening nuclear war, the mood was jubilant - even cocky - at Moorestown's Lockheed Martin Corp. plant Thursday as employees and public officials celebrated a new $100 million contract for its Aegis antimissile defense system.

The Navy recently announced that Lockheed Martin was the victor in a fierce competition to design and build its next generation of Aegis: a computer-guided radar system that can detect incoming missile threats and guides the surface-to-air missiles that would shoot them down.

"In these uncertain times, Aegis has never been more relevant," company vice president Carl Bannar told a standing-room crowd of about 400 employees and dignitaries, including Gov. Christie, two congressmen, and a dozen other elected officials.

U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews told the audience that an eighth grader in Gloucester County had asked him Tuesday if he were anxious about North Korea's threats.

"I told him no," said Andrews, "and I'm here to thank you for giving us that answer."

But even as two American bombers were reported circling over the Korean peninsula, it was the prospect of jobs, not a smack-down of Kim Jong Un, that set the tone for the hour-long celebration, which featured piped-in marching music, big-screen images of soaring missiles, and a giant cake.

"Loss of the contract would have been devastating" to the Moorestown plant, where about 3,000 of the 4,000 employees work on Aegis, said program director Jim Sheridan. "Maybe not overnight," he added, since the plant has other defense contracts. But Aegis - Greek for "shield" - has been a magnet for many of those, he said.

The plant has been home to Aegis since 1969, when Radio Corp. of America introduced the first generation of Aegis; the program is now in its ninth iteration. Today the navies of six U.S.-ally nations sail more than 100 Aegis-equipped ships as part of their missile-defense systems.

For the first time in Aegis' 44-year history, however, Lockheed Martin, which acquired Aegis in 1995, faced competition from Boeing and Raytheon for its next phase of development.

And keeping the contract in New Jersey proved costly.

To support Lockheed Martin's bid, the state's Economic Development Authority last year approved a $40 million grant for new machinery and infrastructure improvements at the Moorestown facility.

Christie began his remarks by praising the bipartisan efforts within the state and in Washington to steer the contract, and he concluded on a patriotic note.

Winning it "benefits not only you," Christie told the Lockheed Martin audience, "but all the people of this country and the world."

Contact David O'Reilly at 856-779-3841, doreilly@phillynews.com, or @doreillyinq on Twitter.

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