WASHINGTON -- The Navy said today that Lockheed Martin and shipbuilder Austal have agreed to extend a deadline for new bids on the next batch of Littoral Combat Ships, giving Sen. John F. Kerry more time to win Senate approval to expand construction of the new fleet of fast-attack boats to a second manufacturing team -- a move that could bring hundreds of new engineering jobs to a defense plant in Pittsfield.
"The extension provides time to process the LCS contract award if Congress provides authorization for the dual block buy," said Lt. Courtney L. Hillson, a Navy spokeswoman.
The vessels, called littoral combat ships, are designed for operations close to shore, including hunting submarines, sweeping for mines, and defeating terrorists and pirates in small boats.
The fleet is currently being built by a team led by Lockheed Martin, but the Navy -- with prodding by Kerry and others -- is pushing a last-minute proposal to award some of the work to a second team, which would likely benefit General Dynamics' Advanced Information Systems in Pittsfield.
Kerry has taken a leading role and hopes to get congressional approval before the congressional session ends at the end of the month.
The extension approved by Lockheed Martin and Austal will give them until the end of the month to pass the new plan, according to the Navy. "This extension does not allow the Navy to continue to work for the dual block buy authorization beyond Dec. 30, 2010," Hillson said.
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.