JUST IN: Northrop Grumman Breaks Ground on New Hypersonics Facility (Updated)

By Meredith Roaten
Digital rendering of the Hypersonics Center of Excellence

Northrop Grumman rendering

ELKTON, Md. — Defense contractor Northrop Grumman unveiled a new Hypersonics Center of Excellence in July that will provide 60,000 square feet for manufacturing the cutting edge weapons.

Four buildings — a case preparation space, propellant machining space, classified engineering office and energetic final assembly — will comprise the facility, which is expected to be fully completed by 2023, company executives said at a groundbreaking ceremony in Elkton, Maryland.

Hypersonic missiles, which are expected to travel faster than Mach 5 and be highly maneuverable, are a top research-and-development priority for the Pentagon. The department has a number of projects underway to pursue the technology.

While Northrop Grumman executives declined to share what hypersonic programs the contractor will be working on in the new facility, they said their weapon production will focus on greater affordability and faster delivery.

Rebecca Torzone, vice president of missile products, said the need for investment in hypersonics is driven by adversaries’ progress with the technology. The Pentagon has to become more adaptable to keep up with the threat environment, she said.

During a military parade in 2019, China showcased a hypersonic glide vehicle known as the DF-17. Russian President Vladimir Putin reported that same year that his country’s military had deployed the Avangard hypersonic weapon.

“It’s really important that we can meet those adversaries and not only meet them, but leapfrog ahead of where they’re at,” Torzone said.

“We’ve got to build precise and accurate weapons … to do that.”

Advanced capabilities such as digital engineering will help the facility achieve its goal of creating products faster for the warfighter, she added.

“The quicker that we can do this with the [fewer] people touching the system, so to speak, not only do you get a higher quality system, but you get it coming off the production line much quicker,” she said.

Northrop Grumman plans to automate case preparation and non-destructive inspection technology such as X-rays, as well as deploy “autonomous guided vehicles” to improve safety and reliability, according to a press release.

Torzone declined to provide an exact cost estimate for the compound’s construction, saying “it’s hard to give an all-inclusive number.” She added that the investment was “eye-watering” for the company “when we think about growing the kinds of capability and facility that we’re going to be growing here.”

The company will be ready to meet the military’s requirements, she said.

“Through its investments in digital engineering and smart infrastructure at its Elkton, Maryland, facility, Northrop Grumman will provide full lifecycle production for hypersonic weapons, from design and development to production and integration,” the company said in a press release.

Dan Olson, general manager and vice president of weapon systems at Northrop Grumman, said making affordable weapons would be a keystone of the facility’s efforts. The compound will support building weapons from design to prototyping all in one place, he noted.

“That allows us to move with speed and bring something from design to test to field, and then back to test and then back to field, and do that more affordably,” Olson said.

Mike White, principal director of hypersonics at the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, praised the center as “what we need to be doing across the nation.”

He noted that the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2022 budget request includes $3.8 billion for hypersonics efforts — an increase of about $600 million from the fiscal year 2021 request.

“Congress is going to be absolutely pivotal in making us successful and enabling us to be successful by accelerating the delivery of transformational capabilities,” White said.

John Hayes, director of propulsion systems and controls at Northrop Grumman, noted the new facility was planned with community in mind.

Because it is located near the Chesapeake Bay, environmental protection was a particular concern for the company, he said.

A solar field will also provide electricity for the compound, he noted.

“The infrastructure, the buildings, everything we’re putting in place here at Elkton, we work closely, both with the county and with the state, to make sure that basically we leave a green footprint behind,” Hayes said.

The facility will bring between 200 and 250 jobs to the region, he added.

Correction: a previous version of this article had an incorrect job title for Dan Olson.

Topics: Emerging Technologies

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