The shipbuilding company spun off by U.S. defense giant Northrop Grumman has formally begun operating as an independent firm, Huntington Ingalls Industries said Thursday morning.

Wes Bush, Northrop Grumman's new chief executive, announced last year that his firm would leave the shipbuilding business in a cost-cutting move. It is widely expected that another major U.S. defense firm will purchase Huntington.

"Our strategy is to better align our business with the U.S. Navy's priorities and to continue improving our shipbuilding performance while meeting our customer commitments," Mike Petters, president and CEO of Huntington Ingalls Industries, said in a statement. "Operating as an independent company will allow us greater focus and agility to accomplish these important objectives, which should create significant value for our shareholders."

The move — and the expected purchase of the new firm — is sure to become a hot topic in coming months on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers already are worried about the state of the U.S. defense industrial base.