WASHINGTON — Chris Kastner has formally taken the reins at Huntington Ingalls Industries, where he plans to continue to evolve the company from a U.S. shipbuilder to a global defense technology provider.

The company in January tapped Kastner as its next chief executive, when longtime president and CEO Mike Petters announced his impending retirement. Petters will remain with the company as executive vice chairman of the board until the end of the year.

In a memo to the workforce, obtained by Defense News, Kastner on his first day on the job acknowledged the importance of maintaining the company’s legacy as a premiere shipbuilder — even as it moves into new technology areas like unmanned systems.

“HII’s unique capabilities are critical to America’s security, and we have a responsibility to do more. We will continue to respect tradition and leverage innovation as we build and deliver great ships,” he wrote. “And we will support a growing set of national security customers through technologies and solutions essential to their missions.”

HII as it exists today was founded in March 2011, when Northrop Grumman’s shipbuilding sector was spun off into an independent company. The new company included Virginia-based Newport News Shipbuilding, which dates back to 1886, and Mississippi-based Ingalls Shipbuilding, founded in 1938. Petters had led the company since the spinoff.

HII in late 2016 stood up its technical solutions division, after acquiring government services provider Camber. The division, meant to consolidate the company’s engineering, logistics and other government services, has grown dramatically and is focused on work in unmanned systems, artificial intelligence and data collection and sharing systems, among other areas. The company has acquired for this unit Hydroid, Spatial Integrated Systems’ autonomy business and Alion, signed agreements to work with Kongsberg Maritime and Sea Machines, and established the Unmanned Systems Center of Excellence in Hampton, Va.

Huntington Ingalls now calls itself a “global engineering and defense technologies provider,” as opposed to “America’s largest military shipbuilding company and a provider of professional services to partners in government and industry,” according to its news releases.

In a Feb. 10 call with analysts, Petters said he’s confident Kastner will move Huntington Ingalls forward.

“We are positioned better than ever before to successfully leverage our substantial backlog to generate strong free cash flow, demonstrate growth in our technical solutions division and create long-term sustainable value for our shareholders, our customers and our employees,” he said.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs, and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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