1 of 3
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Newly elected Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah (left), and Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, attend a ribbon cutting for a new 52,000 square-foot expansion of Northrop Grumman's Salt Lake City facility on Monday, Jan. 17, 2011.

SALT LAKE CITY — Northrop Grumman, one of the world's largest defense and commercial aerospace companies, opened a 52,000-square-foot expansion to its Navigation Systems Division operations at 2211 W. North Temple on Monday.

The plant builds and tests navigation systems, gyroscopes and accelerometers — both key components in guidance systems — for both military and commercial aircraft and is home to an engineering, manufacturing and support staff of 750.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, both R-Utah, and Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, all attended a Monday ribbon cutting for the expanded facility.

Herbert said Northrop Grumman's Utah expansion is an indicator of the state's economic recovery. "Our vision is that Utah will lead the nation as the best performing economy and be recognized as a global business destination," he said. "Defense and aerospace is a big part of what's happening here in Utah."

About 90 percent of Northrop Grumman's work is for the military, and most of the components Northrop Grumman builds in Salt Lake find their way inside missile and aircraft systems and are not the company's highly visible products like the B-2 bomber or two classes of supercarrier ships.

In a light-hearted remark, Lee suggested Utahns could get to know the company better if it opened a retail outlet where people could buy components to build their own gyro-based navigation system outfitted with an iPod jack and neon-lighted flames.

"You build things that the rest of the world will never get to see but benefits from," he said.

"I don't know about the flames, but we'll work on the iPod jack," said Elizabeth Iversen, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman's Navigation Systems Division. In addition to defense systems, North Grumman components manufactured in Salt Lake City were used to help locate the trapped miners in Chile recently and battle the British Petroleum oil spill.

The Utah expansion comes as the defense giant's missile division prepares to become the anchor tenant in the $1.4 billion Falcon Hill project at Hill Air Force Base. Northrup Grumman plans to move 650 engineers and other workers that support the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile program from facilities near the base into a five-story, 125,000-square-foot building that is part of the new privately financed research park on base.

"Your accomplishments are reflected in the record number of products you deliver," said Hatch, who credited Northrop Grumman with transforming the Falcon Hill project from concept to reality.

"Your work makes a difference on the battlefield every day," Hatch said. "You've saved a lot of lives and you've protected a lot of people."

E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com