Defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. said Friday it will complete two Navy amphibious assault vessels at its Avondale shipyard -- even if the work takes longer than the yard's projected closing date of early 2013.
Late Thursday, members of Louisiana's congressional delegation, who have been working to keep the Avondale shipyard alive after Northrop Grumman leaves, said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus had agreed to move up the start of a Navy tanker building program from 2017 to 2014.
The delegation said that would give a shipbuilding company a chance to bid for the program and build the double-hulled tankers at Avondale -- increasing the possibility that another shipbuilding company will buy the yard.
The delegation also said Mabus had agreed to require Northrop Grumman to finish two ships in the Navy's LPD-17 series at Avondale that are currently under construction. Delegation members said that would keep the shipyard open through 2013.
On Friday, Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman said it had no intention of doing anything but finishing the ships at Avondale, no matter how long that takes. The projected closing date is based upon current construction schedules, the company said.
"We are absolutely committed to finishing those ships at Avondale," said company spokesman Randy Belote.
Avondale currently has about 4,700 workers, making it Louisiana's largest industrial employer. Northrop Grumman is in the process of finishing work and closing a smaller shipyard at Tallulah, which will end 95 jobs.
On July 13, Northrop Grumman announced plans to consolidate its Gulf Coast military shipbuilding operations at its larger yard at Pascagoula, Miss and close Avondale. The company said the move is intended to improve efficiency and address the nationwide problem of excess shipbuilding capacity.
The final two ships in the LPD-17 series will be built at Pascagoula. Belote said the company would not consider moving the ships at Avondale for construction completion at Pascagoula.
Northrop Grumman has said it is "exploring strategic alternatives" for its shipbuilding business, including spinning it off into a separate company. With less emphasis coming from the Defense Department on big Navy ships -- such as the LPD-17 series that began in the 1990s -- Northrop Grumman has been expanding its electronics, information and intelligence businesses.
According to the delegation, Mabus agreed for the Navy to provide $6 million for other Louisiana shipyards for competitive measures and encourage them to be potential Avondale buyers.
The delegation also said Mabus had agreed to provide $10 million in funding for Delgado Community College and the University of New Orleans to continue an education-training partnership with Avondale.