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Lockheed Martin workers, wearing shirts that read ‘Sword of the Fleet’ and depict the Navy’s MK 41 Vertical Launching System, gather for an event Thursday to commemorate the return of production to the Middle River plant. (Maximilian Franz / The Daily Record)

Lockheed Martin reopens Middle River production line

Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin announced the reopening of a production line at its Middle River facility on Thursday. As part of a $235.3 million contract with the U.S. Navy, Lockheed will be manufacturing an MK 41 Vertical Launching System, a missile launcher.

At a ribbon cutting at the facility, Lockheed officials, along with a handful of state and government officials, officially reopened the VLS production line. The facility will be used for deck and hatch production, a part of the manufacturing process that has not been done at the Middle River facility for more than 20 years. About 100 employees who will work on the VLS team were also in attendance.

The contract was awarded in December 2014 and extends through 2022.

An undated photo shows parts for the Navy’s MK 41 Vertical Launching system being assembled at Lockheed Martin’s Middle River facility, where they have been made for more than 30 years.(Courtesy Lockheed Martin)

An undated photo shows parts for the Navy’s MK 41 Vertical Launching system being assembled at Lockheed Martin’s Middle River facility, where they have been made for more than 30 years.
(Courtesy Lockheed Martin)

Between 150 and 200 employees will be working on the VLS production line at any point in time, plus an additional 200 support staff members. Of the roughly 150 employees working on the production line, 125 will be existing Lockheed engineers and other highly skilled workers while an additional 25 workers will be hired over the next year, said Rick Mattox, director of VLS.

The last contract for the United States in the facility was awarded in 2013. Lockheed spent about a year revamping its production line to accommodate the Navy contract by developing more than 80 tools to improve production flow. The company boasts a 30 year on-time delivery record.

Six modules will be produced every month at the facility. Those modules will then be sent to two domestic shipyards.

Described as the Swiss Army knife for the Navy, the MK 41 can fire several different types of missiles from U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers. Lockheed produced the first launcher in 1984. Since then, the launchers have been used in 3,850 firings with what the company calls a 99 percent success rate. The launcher is used by the U.S. and 12 other allied navies across 200 ships from 20 ship classes.

Some 1,500 launchers have been produced to date, the company said.

The MLS 41 launcher was used in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the mission that started the Iraq War.

Maryland manufacturers make up almost 6 percent of the state’s total output and employs nearly 4 percent of the state’s workforce. As of 2015, 102,000 people were working in manufacturing in Maryland.

At Thursday’s event, Secretary of Commerce Mike Gill said the state’s manufacturing sector grew in 2015.

“Let’s go back to back and do it again in 2016,” he said.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger is on the defense subcommittee on the House Appropriations Committee, which approved the money for Lockheed’s contract.

“We are the most powerful country in the world, and don’t let anybody or any politics say that we’re not,” Ruppersberger said. “The problem is that we have to maintain that and Congress has to do their job to make sure that we keep the funding going.”