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Camden Rockets Go On Defense for UkraineLock Icon

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Camden Rockets Defend Ukraine 139696
Lockheed Martin, which has about 1,000 employees in the Camden area, is the nation’s largest defense contractor by total sales. CEO Jim Taiclet participated in talks with the Pentagon last week on producing more weapons for embattled Ukraine. ( Jason Burt)

A year after anticipating an eventually-scuttled merger of two of the biggest employers in the Camden aerospace hub — Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne — the 3,500-strong defense workforce at Highland Industrial Park is expanding and responding to a war-torn world.

“I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers in geopolitics or what’s going on in Ukraine today, but as long as there’s conflict, there’s a need for producing defensive-type weapons,” said James Lee Silliman, executive director of the Ouachita Partnership for Economic Development in Camden. “You know, I think Camden is destined to continue to play a role in that.”

Silliman said that Javelin and Stinger missiles assembled in East Camden were included in the $3 billion package the United States pledged for Ukraine’s defense after Russia’s brutal invasion two months ago.

“Other Camden-produced missile defense systems have been mobilized in the region, but I’m not in a position to say exactly which ones and where they are located. That info is above my pay grade.”

Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Maryland, and its vendor Aerojet Rocketdyne of El Segundo, California, each have about 1,000 employees in East Camden. Though Lockheed’s $4.4 billion deal to buy Aerojet collapsed, both are expanding and reviewing operations in light of global insecurity.

Lockheed, the world’s largest defense company ranked by sales, said last week that it was negotiating with the Pentagon on producing more weapons for Ukraine, a nation of 41 million, though production has not yet increased. The Javelin missiles and armed drones already decimating Russian tanks in Ukraine were taken from existing U.S. stockpiles.

But Lockheed and other contractors say Western governments are calling for new production capacity as NATO bolsters defenses in the face of Russian aggression. Lockheed Martin CEO Jim Taiclet was involved in the Pentagon talks nearly two weeks ago, the company said. Other companies in the talks included Raytheon Technologies Corp. of Waltham, Massachusetts, and General Dynamics Corp. of Reston, Virginia, which each have operations in East Camden.

Both General Dynamics and Aerojet Rocketdyne make components of the Javelin antitank rockets used to devastating effect by Ukrainian units.

85,000-SF Facility Coming

Lockheed Martin stock was trading at above $455 a share last week, an all-time high. Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings was at $42 a share, well above its 52-week average but far below the merger-anticipation high of nearly $56 it reached in February 2021.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Commerce Secretary Mike Preston visited East Camden last month to praise and honor the defense workforce just as Russian atrocities in Ukraine were dominating American news coverage. They noted the area’s rich defense industry history, down to the fact that the teams at Southern Arkansas University Tech, which is based at the park and trains many students for the jobs there, are the Rockets.

“Our Lockheed Martin Camden operation is proud of the commitment and responsibility we have to the warfighter, and our employees aim to serve them,” said Aaron Huckaby, Lockheed’s Camden operations site director. This month, the Army awarded Lockheed $918 million to make about 7,000 all-weather rounds for Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems.

“This contract … demonstrates the continued demand for GMLRS as the go-to system for warfighters,” Huckaby said. The company also recently demonstrated a layered missile defense system for the Army’s Integrated Air & Missile Defense Battery Command, intercepting a ballistic missile with a PAC-3 missile segment enhancement unit working in tandem with Lockheed’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.

“PAC-3 MSE is a final integration product of Camden Operations, while the THAAD Weapon System is supported by items manufactured in Camden,” Huckaby told Arkansas Business in an email. Later this year, production will begin in a new 85,000-square-foot production facility. “This new building – the All Up Round (AUR) III – will support increased production capacity for our signature missile defense capability, PAC-3 MSEs.”

Lockheed Martin, which has 114,000 employees worldwide, is now hiring assemblers, inspectors, engineers and other professionals “as we continue to grow in 2022,” Huckaby said.

Camden Rockets Defend Ukraine 139696
James Lee Silliman, executive director of the Ouachita Partnership for Economic Development. ( Jason Burt)

Doomed Acquisition

Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, which has about a fifth of its total 5,000 employees in Camden, is hiring, too, the company said in background material provided for this article. It added that its Arkansas team has delivered critical defense capabilities for more than 40 years to protect service members, the United States and its allies. Its workforce, which produces 75,000 solid rocket motors a year, has grown 70% during the past five years, and dozens of Camden jobs, from manufacturing to engineering, are being advertised at www.rocket.com/careers.

A Federal Trade Commission anti-trust lawsuit doomed Lockheed’s planned $4.4 billion acquisition of Aerojet, which would have wed the two big aerospace players in Highland Industrial Park. Lockheed announced Feb. 13 that it was scrapping its plans. Government antitrust experts had reservations about limiting competition in rocket-making and predicted that the deal would have fueled price spikes in missile components.

Taiclet, the Lockheed CEO, said at the time that the deal would have benefited all, but he “determined that in light of the FTC’s actions, terminating the transaction is in the best interest of our stakeholders.” For its part, Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc. said in a statement that it has a strong foundation for substantial value and remains open to merger ideas.

Both companies announced quarterly results recently, with Lockheed Martin revealing net first-quarter earnings of $1.7 billion, or $6.44 per share, compared with $1.8 billion in the same quarter last year. But Taiclet took note of the changing dynamics of war in Europe.

“Global events this quarter marked a dramatic change in the geopolitical environment and demonstrated the tremendous importance of an effective deterrent to aggression by major nation-states, and mutual defense among the United States and its allies,” Taiclet said in a statement. “The men and women of Lockheed Martin are fully dedicated to enhancing this deterrence capability by effectively delivering on our existing platform programs and systems, while accelerating the integration of digital world technologies …”

In February, Aerojet Rocketdyne announced fourth-quarter and yearly results for all of 2021, reporting record quarterly sales of $590 million and a record yearly sales of $2.19 billion. Both numbers were up 6% over 2020.

Governor Says Thanks

Lockheed and Aerojet have both been in Highland Industrial Park for decades, and their military vendor neighbors include General Dynamics, Raytheon and Esterline Defense. Local companies that rose to support those industries include B&M Painting, which provides aerospace coatings and painting; Camden Machine Tool & Die, specializing in tooling, molds and rings for aircraft; and Highland Machine Works, which provides production line system integration and custom machinery.

The industrial park was the setting last month for Arkansas Aerospace & Defense Worker Appreciation Day, arranged by Silliman, the governor and the commerce secretary.

The event even included a speech of thanks from Kateryna Pitchford, a Ukraine native and associate professor of business at Central Baptist College in Conway. Pitchford, a scholar who described the hardships and slaughter in her hometown, Dnipro, offered heartfelt thanks for the defense workers’ contribution to her country’s defense.

The governor covered generally the same theme.

“Your daily commitment to producing state-of-the-art and highly technical components and propulsion systems has made the difference for Ukraine,” Hutchinson told a crowd of hundreds at SAU Tech’s campus within the industrial park. “Camden is in a critical front-line position to support the Ukrainians.”

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