New Factory to Launch New Era in Missile Production
Northrop Grumman is building a ‘factory of the future’ for tip-to-tail production of the most advanced missiles of today and tomorrow
By Kenneth Kesner
The ground is shifting around Benjie Staggs, and he’s excited about it.
Staggs is director of Advanced and Development Programs for Northrop Grumman at the sprawling Allegany Ballistics Laboratory (ABL) in Rocket Center, West Virginia. Outside his office, work is underway on an ultramodern 113,000-square-foot complex that will transform the production of advanced defense and strike missiles.
Northrop Grumman’s new missile integration facility is a “factory of the future,” located such that key energetic components for sophisticated missiles are produced on-site and come together under one roof.
“We’ve produced rocket motors and other components here for years, but they were shipped elsewhere for assembly into a complete missile,” said Staggs, a West Virginia native with more than 20 years of missile experience with Northrop Grumman. “This is a totally new operation for ABL.”
The new operation will launch with the second Low-Rate Initial Production lot of the Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile – Extended Range (AARGM-ER), which the U.S. Navy previously awarded to Northrop Grumman under a sole source contract. AARGM-ER is a major upgrade to the current AARGM and will be fitted to the Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircraft as well as the Air Force F-35A, Marine Corps F-35B, and Navy and Marine Corps F-35C aircraft.
The new missile and facility are essential to address evolving global threats. Unlike many such factories, Northrop Grumman’s missile integration facility is designed to produce more than one type of missile, and it can easily be modified to manage the integration of current and new programs. The facility incorporates leading-edge digital manufacturing methodologies, including the use of smart equipment, paperless work instructions and processing, and modular automated work cells.
The facility will adapt and pivot swiftly to produce different types of missiles as threats and demand change – all while optimizing quality, reducing costs and delivering to the warfighter faster. Upon completion in 2024, the Northrop Grumman missile integration facility will support production of up to 300 strike missiles per year, with expansion capacity to produce 600 per year. And there is opportunity for further growth to meet future mission needs.
Staggs sometimes calls the new missile facility “Plant 4” because on the more than 1,600 acres of ABL there are dozens of programs at three other plants delivering a diverse range of propulsion, composite aerospace structures, specialized metal parts, electronic fuzes and more to customers.
“The new missile integration facility at ABL allows Northrop Grumman to compress the AARGM-ER supply line for better affordability,” said Doug Larratt, Northrop Grumman AARGM-ER program director. “In this instance, rocket motor production, warhead production, final assembly, integration, and test will be efficiently handled at the same location using state-of-the-art manufacturing processes and equipment.”
It’s the latest illustration of Northrop Grumman’s unique capabilities combining to meet challenging mission requirements in an expeditious and cost-effective manner.
“We understand that speed of production and quality are non-negotiable when it comes to equipping front-line users with best-in-breed products,” said Northrop Grumman Weapon Systems Vice President and General Manager Dan Olson. “We can reduce production times to deliver missiles to the warfighter quickly and affordably while prioritizing our employees’ and our warfighters’ safety.”