Northrop president to workers: Only think about quality

Published 7:00 pm Friday, July 13, 2007

Northrop Grumman Ship Systems President Philip Teel has told shipyard workers in Pascagoula to concentrate on their jobs to build quality vessels and let those labors answer critics in the Navy.

“We have our name on LPD 17 and LPD 18, two ships that have been delivered, two ships with which our Navy customer is not happy,” Teel told the workers Thursday. “We’re working with the Navy to get these ships finished, and to get them happy with these truly remarkable combatants. That’s the only thing all of us should think about every day.”

Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter, who in a letter to Northrop’s CEO Ron Sugar last month, criticized Northrop for what Winter said were poor construction standards and an inability to meet cost and schedule targets.

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The first two ships were delivered to the Navy incomplete, but Teel said when the USS Mesa Verde leaves the Ingalls yard in Pascagoula it would be ready to function.

The LPDs are amphibious assault ships designed to carry as many as 800 Marines, their vehicles and helicopters.

Teel said Congress, the Navy and Northrop shared blame for deficiencies in the first two LPDs, built primarily at the Avondale, La., yard.

Teel said the design was particularly complex, driving the cost up and making it a difficult ship to build.

The Navy wanted a design team integrated with Northrop Grumman’s, a move that slowed the design to the point it was not complete when fabrication started on the first LPD, Teel said.

Teel said Congress was unable to maintain a steady flow of money to the project, causing Northrop to increase and then decrease staffing.

To the workers, Tell said: “Whatever your individual task, do it the best you can — do it like your future depends on it because our future does depend on it.”

In another development, The Sun Herald newspaper reported Friday that it had received a copy of a June 29 letter Sugar wrote back to Winters.

The newspaper said Sugar made similar points Teel made to workers Thursday, mainly the problem with the design team, saying “Production began while the design was still immature — always a risky strategy.”

Sugar did not put the blame entirely on Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Ingalls yard in Pascagoula. Sugar said the hurricane’s damage made the situation worse.

Sugar said the company was not happy delivering the first two LPDs incomplete, but planned to learn from them.

Sugar also said Teel and Wes Bush, another Northrop executive, have provided a detailed roadmap of the work under way to improve training, processes, productivity, facilities and quality at the Gulf Coast yards. Northrop also operates a shipyard in Gulfport.