Through a half-century of growth, name changes, acquisitions and consolidation, Leonardo DRS has transformed from a two-man operation called Diagnostic/Retrieval Systems into a multi-billion-dollar, international company with almost 6,000 employees working at 27 locations, including a facility in Richland Township.
To commemorate the golden anniversary, Leonardo DRS Chief Executive Officer William Lynn III has been touring the company’s plants and meeting with workers.
He visited DRS Laurel Technologies on Monday and spoke optimistically about the future for both Leonardo DRS and the local site where the number of employees has expanded from less than 300 to approximately 500 in recent years.
“We think we are on a path to being the best mid-tier defense electronics company in the United States,” said Lynn, a former deputy secretary of defense. “We think we’re well on that path. We had 20 percent growth last year. We’re looking forward to more growth. We think we provide great equipment to the American war fighter, including the equipment that comes out of here in Johnstown.”
In 1969, engineers Leonard Newman and David Gross founded the company that developed passive submarine detection.
The company then underwent an expansion via acquisition during the 1980s through 2000s, including when it brought in Laurel Technologies, a Johnstown-area organization.
“When the business was founded back in the ’80s, the mid-’80s, it was a local business and it was then part of the acquisition that DRS did in the mid-’90s,” said Darin Marley, vice president of program management. “That gave us the needed investment and reach across the different areas of the defense world to really focus on growing our business.”
Finmeccanica (now Leonardo), an Italian aerospace and defense company, acquired Arlington, Virginia-based DRS Technologies in 2008.
Today, as part of that conglomerate, DRS Laurel Technologies makes shipboard and submarine electronics, while working with other local members of the defense sector, including by supporting the annual Showcase for Commerce military contracting exposition.
“They’ve just done an outstanding job of bringing contracts and work to the area,” Linda Thomson, president and CEO of Johnstown Area Regional Industries, said.
“They have really been a true community partner in bettering our region and keeping our economy strong. They’ve really been a great partner in that with other companies, particularly in the defense-related industry group.”
Like DRS, as a whole, the Cambria County operation has undergone a transformation in recent years, switching primarily from Army projects to doing increased manufacturing for the Navy.
“When I came on, we were heavily dependent on Army business related to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Lynn said. “And, as those conflicts wound down, so did the business of course. So my mission was to diversify our business.
“We’re now about equally divided between the Army and the Navy in terms of our business. And we’re not really dependent on wartime spending. Our revenue comes out of the base Army and Navy budgets.”
The emphasis has also switched from counterterrorism to technology to deal with peer nations, such as Russia and China, according to Lynn, while the company has consolidated from 27 lines of business to eight.
“That shift in the threat has made the kind of equipment that we supply here in Johnstown for major surface combatants and submarines really a key part of the technology that gives the American military the edge that it needs to prevail in any potential conflict or better to avoid any conflict,” Lynn said.