BATH FORMS AN ALLIANCE TO BID ON NAVY SHIPS

BATH FORMS AN ALLIANCE TO BID ON NAVY SHIPS

Bath Iron Works has formed an alliance with Hughes Aircraft and Avondale Industries to offer a more competitive bid for a new class of Navy ships, officials said.

The alliance will be in a stronger position to bid on the design and construction of the LPD-17, an amphibious transport vessel. The Navy hopes to

put the 12-ship project out to bid by next summer."On our own it would be very difficult," said Duane "Buzz" Fitzgerald, BIW's president. "But with the alliance our chances are improved 100 percent."

The LPD-17, which will be designed to carry troops, Marine Corps helicopters and landing craft, is the most significant surface-ship program planned by the Navy over the next five years.

The vessels are 150 feet longer than the Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers currently built in Bath.

Under the arrangement, New Orleans shipbuilder Avondale would be the prime contractor, but officials at both shipyards agreed that some of the ships would be built in Bath.

Avondale is under contract to build nine similar ships for the Navy and has a history of building amphibious-type ships.

But the LPD-17 will rely on more sophisticated combat systems. Bath, which has focused on destroyers, frigates and cruisers, has more experience in these areas, said Bruce Hicks, an Avondale spokesman.

Hughes Aircraft, of California, has developed complex direction and self- defense systems for the Navy and will use its experience to design an integrated systems-control center for the LPD-17.

The alliance also can rely on Electric Boat in Groton, Conn., for its expertise. The submarine builder is owned by General Dynamics, which is awaiting regulatory approval for its purchase of BIW.

"Because we're a team, we would be exchanging information and solving problems together," Mr. Hicks said. "We would be able to have one learning curve for the whole program."

The three companies in the consortium began talks on forming the alliance in August, Mr. Fitzgerald said.

About a dozen BIW workers are in New Orleans, and 15 Avondale workers are at Bath laying out a broad plan for construction. Workers from Hughes have visited both yards.

The alliance expects heavy competition. The Navy has awarded design contracts to BIW, Avondale, Ingalls Shipbuilding of Mississippi, Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock in Virginia and National Steel & Shipbuilding in San Diego.