Northrop Grumman Shifts Gears

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No place for a pilot in there, but somebody designed and built the plane and all the gizmos in it. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

A shout out today for this analysis from Nathan Hodge of the Wall Street Journal.

Anticipating lean defense budgets in the future, Northrop CEO Wes Bush has begun a sweeping corporate restructuring over the past few months. Its most radical component: The world's largest naval shipbuilder may exit the shipbuilding business altogether.

Mr. Bush's strategy reflects a broader shift in America's strategic thinking about the military and the industry that arms it. Tomorrow's battlefields may be in cyberspace—or at the edge of outer space. The new symbol of American military might is more likely to be a remotely piloted drone aircraft prowling miles above an insurgent safe house than a division of Marines storming a beach.

Northrop Grumman and its various antecedents shifted a lot of jobs from California over the years. The HQ moves to Virginia in 2011, after local government leaders there pulled out the public checkbook. So why should we care about what Northrop does?

Two reasons. 1) Northrop still employs about 30,000 people here. 2) Understanding where the market is going allows Californians to stay ahead of the eight ball. At the Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Conference in LA in 2007, Ian Ziskin, head of Human Resources and Administration made some compelling remarks.

Our employees build nuclear submarines, satellites, and just about everything in between. And not just military hardware and systems; we’re doing more and more every year for the civilian world as well … information technology for healthcare; environmental monitoring satellites; communications networks for police and firefighters; mail sorting systems for the Postal Service.

...How do we attract more people into teaching? ... because if we fall behind other countries in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] disciplines, it will be very hard to catch up again simply by virtue of the pace of technological progress. As the old test pilot said, “You ain’t been lost until you’ve been lost at mach three.”

That about describes the state of affairs we appear to be in, but by "we," I graciously include the entire country, not just California.

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About Rachael Myrow

Rachael Myrow hosts the California Report for KQED. Over 17 years in public radio, she's worked for Marketplace and KPCC, filed for NPR and The World, and developed a sizable tea collection that's become the envy of the KQED newsroom. She specializes in politics, economics and history in California - but for emotional balance, she also covers food and its relationship to health and happiness.

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