WASHINGTON — Sharing of manufacturing facilities and other resources, pooling supply chains, new opportunities for employees’ career advancement and renewed stability after three tumultuous years are among the benefits Aerojet Rocketdyne’s division president expects from the company’s acquisition by L3Harris.
In a Friday interview with Defense News, Ross Niebergall, the newly named president of L3Harris’ Aerojet Rocketdyne segment also expressed confidence that he will have the independence to continue running the Aerojet sector as a supplier of engines and propulsion systems to other companies, including those that might compete with L3Harris.
“I see no issues whatsoever,” said Niebergall, who until recently was Aerojet’s vice president and chief technology officer. L3Harris is “buying Aerojet Rocketdyne to get a footprint in the growing missiles and weapons and munitions market. We wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that growth, and that growth really is, as being a merchant supplier” of propulsion systems, he said.
L3Harris on Friday announced it had closed the $4.7 billion deal to acquire Aerojet, a manufacturer of rocket engines and propulsion systems for the Defense Department, NASA and other customers.
After three years of turmoil at Aerojet Rocketdyne — including Lockheed’s failed acquisition and a war for control of the company between former CEO Eileen Drake and former Executive Chairman Warren Lichtenstein, as well as COVID and supply chain challenges — Niebergall expressed relief that the company’s period of uncertainty has come to an end.
“It’s fantastic to be closed, and I’m excited really for the 5,000-plus employees at Aerojet Rocketdyne, that we’re welcoming them into the fold and giving them that stability to continue growing that business,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement.”
As the acquisition neared its close, Niebergall said, Aerojet reached out to nearly 100 of its most crucial engineers and other employees to ask if they would remain part of L3Harris. All said yes, he said, and he predicted the newfound stability will improve overall retention of talented workers.
Niebergall said that Drake is no longer with the company, and its previous board has been dissolved.
A top priority for L3Harris, he said, will be carrying out the $215.6 million contract Aerojet received from the Pentagon in April to modernize its complex rocket propulsion manufacturing processes at facilities in Camden, Arkansas, Huntsville, Alabama, and Orange County, Virginia. These improvements were intended to allow Aerojet to increase production and speed up deliveries of Javelins, Stingers, and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, or GMLRS, weapons, scores of which of which have been provided to Ukraine.
“Since that’s such an important piece for the Department of Defense, that’s an area that we’re going to apply a lot of attention in the next few weeks, to make sure we’re supporting that,” he said.
Niebergall said he plans to fly to the Huntsville facility on Sunday to get work going as quickly as possible.
The integration of Aerojet into L3Harris will likely take months — and likely into early 2024 — and the details of how it will work are still being hammered out, he said. Since announcing the acquisition last December, the companies formed an organization called the integration management office that included representatives from both firms to figure out how it will work.
“Now, we’re really starting the heavy lifting of actually doing the integration that we’ve been planning for,” Niebergall said.
Integrating the two companies’ information technology functions will be an early priority, and work force integration will follow over the next few months.
Bringing Aerojet’s thousands of employees into L3Harris could present new ways for them to advance in their careers.
“We’re creating an organization that has a lot more resilience and gives people a lot more opportunities within the company,” Niebergall said.
He said Aerojet will be able to take advantage of the broader manufacturing and supply chain resources L3Harris has developed over the years, as well as leveraging economies of scale by using L3Harris’s shipping and other logistics systems.
For example, L3Harris and its new Aerojet division might be able to use the manufacturing facilities each had developed on their own to work on each other’s programs, he said, adding that Aerojet’s 13 facilities and the programs they work on are unique enough that there isn’t much redundancy with L3Harris facilities.
L3Harris will be able to provide more funding to its new Aerojet segment, and make some of its own experts available to help on their projects, he said.
“Now that we’ve pulled Aerojet Rocketdyne into this, we will be … figuring out what resources can we apply. Not just funding, but also people from across the company to be able to surge and apply to Aerojet Rocketdyne as needed to make this into a great company,” Niebergall said.
Niebergall predicted layoffs would be minimal, and would focus on reducing redundant positions at corporate offices.
“Aerojet Rocketdyne is focused on building rocket engines, and that’s something that we need to now strengthen,” he said.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.