By Geoff Fein

Northrop Grumman [NOC] is outsourcing construction of modules for the USS Arlington (LPD-24) to General Dynamics‘ [GD] Bath Iron Works to meet shipbuilding schedule commitments and help stabilize the shipbuilding industrial base, according to a Northrop Grumman official.

“Outsourcing certain parts of the work had been in our plan from the original contract structure,” Irwin Edenzon, vice president and general manager for Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Gulf Coast, told Defense Daily in an interview earlier this week.

“When we put the estimate together, we took a look at our capacity, our workload,” he added. “We made assumptions in our estimates that a certain portion of our work was going to be subcontracted.”

The Arlington is the eighth San Antonio-class amphibious ship being built by Northrop Grumman.

Pre-fabrication started two weeks ago, and fabrication began on Monday, a Northrop Grumman spokesman told Defense Daily. “The work includes upper wing units and much of the flight deck, as well as several interior units.”

Bath is expected to complete construction of the modules and barge the components to Pascagoula, Miss., in spring ’09, the spokesman said.

“The decision we made for these modules was programmatic …[it was] made in the best interest of meeting our commitment to the customer,” Edenzon said. “Making sure we could deliver the ship on time and on budget. It was the right decision for the program and our customer.”

Northrop Grumman is expected to deliver LPD-24 to the Navy in the third quarter of 2011, the spokesman added.

While Northrop Grumman relies on subcontractors and suppliers from all across the country, this is the first time the company has outsourced these specific modules, Edenzon said.

“These specific modules, I don’t believe we have subcontracted out before,” he said. “But we certainly have subcontracted out a number of modules for a number of ships in the past.”

The decision about which modules to outsource is a function of where Northrop Grumman is in the build process–how much capacity the shipyards have available, the capacity and expertise that is available in the marketplace, cost, schedule, and not only the availability of physical resources such as machinery, docks, and cranes, but also the availability of workers, Edenzon said. “It’s a relatively complex decision process and considers a lot of things.”

The types of modules to be outsourced and the schedules for those modules is dependent on a number of ship programs that are going on all at the same time, he added.

“Then it becomes a process of looking at the capacity that’s in the industry and matching our schedule with the capacity that’s out there in the market place,” Edenzon said. “It was fortuitous that General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works had capacity available. We had the work to be outsourced, we have a good relationship with Bath Iron Works, and it worked out we were able to put the work there in accordance with our plan.”

The decision to outsource particular modules also has to accommodate both cost and schedule considerations, he added.

“We have made obligations and commitments to our customer, and we have got to make sure we can meet our budgets and our schedules,” Edenzon added. “So any decision we make about where this work goes, first priority is to make sure we have cost and schedule and quality covered. This will not have any impact on our performance.”

While the arrangement to outsource work to Bath might seem unique, Edenzon said it reflects the relationship Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics have.

“General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman are doing business everyday,” he said.

Northrop Grumman’s Newport News operations and General Dynamics’ Electric Boat both have a hand in the construction of the Virginia-class submarines, under a unique workshare arrangement. And, last month, the two companies signed contracts with the Navy for construction of DDG-1000 and DDG-1001.

Both shipyards will be responsible for not only building a ship, but for manufacturing components for the other yard. Bath will build DDG-1000, the USS Zumwalt, and Northrop Grumman will construct the yet unnamed, DDG-1001. Under terms of the dual-lead ship acquisition plan, Bath will build the DDG-1001 mid forebody. Northrop Grumman will construct the superstructure and hangar for DDG-1000 (Defense Daily, Feb. 20).

Whether Northrop Grumman will outsource modules for the USS Somerset (LPD-25) has yet to be determined, Edenzon noted. We will go through the same kind of decision process for the follow-on ships as we did for this one,” he said. “[We will] take a look at the schedule, at the available capacity. Bath Iron Works is a good supplier. If it looks like they have the capacity available, then we’ll be talking with them about the possibility of helping us on future ships.”