Friday, July 1, 2005

By Timothy J. Gibbons, The Times-Union

A Jacksonville company has been selected to create training programs for the military’s new fighter jet, a project that will keep the company busy for decades to come.

LSI was one of six companies tapped by Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. to create computer- and Internet-based training programs for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is expected to be deployed in 2010.

LSI develops training programs for the military in multiple offices in Jacksonville as well as facilities around the country. It has already ramped up hiring for the project, upping its Jacksonville workforce by 100 employees over the past 18 months, to a total of 470 nationwide.

Once the project enters Phase Two, in September 2006, the company could bring on another 50 or so workers, said vice president Phil Voss.

The first phase will see the Jacksonville company split $680,000 with the other five teams working on the project. In Phase Two, the teams — which include companies in Orlando and Winter Park — will divvy up $20 million. Some of the companies working on the first phase might be dropped in the second phase, Northrop Grumman spokeswoman Louise Muniak said, but the company has “every confidence” that will not happen.

LSI was selected, she said, because it had “a lot of the characteristics” needed by the project, particularly the ability to develop the coursework on budget.

During the first phase, LSI will build the core programs for the coursework and then, during the second phase, the company will put together the actual training material. The company has already developed more than 1,000 hours of coursework for “most every aircraft in the Department of Defense,” Voss said.

The new aircraft that LSI programs will teach pilots to fly and mechanics to repair is a stealthy, supersonic multi-role fighter designed to replace a variety of planes being used by the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps., as well as aircraft being used by the military of other countries.

Along with the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway have had input into how the F-35 is designed.

This international flavor brings LSI back to its roots: The company was founded by two Navy veterans 26 years ago to help train military forces in other countries that had purchased U.S. aircraft.

The Northrop Grumman contract, which 120 companies competed for, is significant, Voss said, because it puts the company in at the ground floor of the development of an aircraft that will be used for decades.

“This is the newest aircraft coming out, and they estimate they’ll build 3,000 or more,” he said. “We have won the training contract for the newest generation of fighting aircraft not only for the U.S. but all these foreign countries as well.”