By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneMarch 12, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Happy 50th anniversary, AMRDEC.
On March 12, 1964, the Francis J. McMorrow Missile Laboratories was dedicated in memory of the first commander of the Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal.
Today, the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, which consists of McMorrow Labs and many other research and test facilities throughout Redstone Arsenal and the world, will recognize its 50th anniversary with a ceremony for its employees and longtime supporters.
In its 50 years, McMorrow Missile Laboratories has grown into the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, a world-class facility with about 2,500 employees at Redstone and a total of 10,000 employees worldwide. At Redstone, AMRDEC employees include more than 1,900 scientists and engineers who provide technical services, and conduct scientific research and development in disciplines that support AMRDEC customer platforms and weapon systems. AMRDEC conducts operations in 1.7 million square feet of facilities with a total investment exceeding $975 million per year. As a result of the vast resources that AMRDEC can bring to bear to support its customers, AMRDEC?'s annual revenue exceeds $1.5 billion.
But those statistics only tell part of the story. The rest of the story can be found among its employees, who enjoy the hands-on, advanced research work that translates into dividends for war fighters on the battlefield.
?"The hands-on engineering work we do here is very rare, especially for an engineer in the early part of their career," Steve Cornelius, director for missile development at AMRDEC, said.
?"But that?'s what we do here with missile development. You come to us out of college, and we give you the opportunity to develop a piece of hardware. After my first year here, I was actually, physically, building missiles. Engineers go from designing missiles in a hands-on environment to going out to the range to fly them in testing. What makes our engineers special is they have the knowledge and skill because they?'ve done it all themselves."
Cornelius has been part of the AMRDEC story since graduating as a mechanical engineer from the University of Alabama in 1986. He grew up in Huntsville in the 1960s and ?'70s when ?"everyone?'s dad was an engineer" and returned to the research opportunities offered by the Army at Redstone.
?"I ran a lot of technology demonstration programs in my career," he said. ?"There?'s a lot of hands-on training so that you know what you can do.
?"For 50 years, this organization has focused on letting missile engineers do missile engineering. Our engineers keep up with technology. They are inventing, developing, testing. This is a unique place from that perspective. And because of that there have been a lot of things invented here that are part of the big Army."
Back in 1964, McMorrow Labs set a standard for research, development and engineering facilities, establishing Redstone Arsenal as the home of the Army?'s missile technology.
In those early years, Redstone engineers became known for laser research, pioneering the laser guidance concepts and technique used by the Air Force in the development of their laser-guided smart bombs; for developing the Hawk missile, which was used by Israel in June 1967 during the 6-Day War, marking the first combat firings of U.S. Army missiles; and for their work on the TOW missile, which was mounted on a Huey helicopter to become, in 1972, the first American-made guided missile to be fired by U.S. troops in combat.
Those missiles were followed by developments that led to the Pershing, Hellfire, Patriot, Stinger, Javelin, MLRS rockets, smart weapons and other missile technologies that are still making a difference for war fighters today.
?"We must provide the capability the Army needs to counter the threats we face today," Cornelius said. ?"Our enemies are advanced, they have a lot of the same technologies that we have. So, moving forward in capability is going to be extremely important. And with the capabilities and facilities we have here, this organization is a treasure for those technologies not only for the Army, but for all the services."
While engineers were developing missile technologies, the Army was working on building on the science and technology of Redstone Arsenal. Up until 1977, McMorrow Missile Laboratories was part of the Missile Command. But that year, MICOM split and McMorrow Labs became part of the Missile Research and Development Command.
More changes came in 1997, when MICOM combined with the aviation portion of the Army?'s Aviation and Troop Command to become today?'s Aviation and Missile Command. With that change, two Research Development and Engineering Centers were created -- the Aviation RDEC and the Missile RDEC.
Two years later, on Oct. 1, 1999, the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center was established, combining the Aviation RDEC and the Missile RDEC. Today, AMRDEC remains part of the RDECOM, which is a subordinate command to AMC, while supporting AMCOM, the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space, the Program Executive Office for Aviation and other Team Redstone partners.
?"The aviation piece of the AMRDEC is only about 20 years old," Dr. Bill Lewis, AMRDEC?'s director for aviation development, said.
In 1983-84, Lewis was a captain in the Army, serving in the Engineering Division of the Army?'s Aviation Systems Command in St. Louis.
?"I was involved in integrating the Stinger missile onto the OH-58D (Kiowa Warrior helicopter), so I worked closely with the MICOM guys at Redstone," Lewis said.
?"I grew in the aviation side of AMRDEC, first as an engineer working system engineering, and then as a test pilot and product manager. We were part of what you consider AMRDEC today. I was part of that. But it wasn?'t Redstone specific. MICOM was my first indoctrination to Redstone."
During his Army years in St. Louis, the current fleet of Army helicopters was developed, with Apache and Black Hawk among them. It is the fleet that AMRDEC still supports today with technology upgrades and modifications.
?"Those aircraft were transformational in their design," Lewis said. ?"We are today modifying a fleet that came into being in the ?'70s and ?'80s. We keep the fleet current with the technologies of today."
Lewis retired from the Army in 1996, and worked as a professor at the University of Tennessee before joining the Program Executive Office for Aviation at Redstone in 2002 as the chief engineer on the Comanche helicopter program. But when that program was canceled, Lewis, who had a doctorate in flight control aerospace, moved to the Aviation Engineering Division at AMRDEC to serve as the flight control branch chief.
?"Even before AMRDEC and RDECOM, all these Army organizations were created to transition technology into the war fighter?'s interest," he said. ?"It was all about taking technology from infancy and maturing it to platform. We did that work in St. Louis and we are doing that work today.
?"One of the beauties of RDECOM is that it was created to do just that, to move technology to the battlefield, and to do so readily. Taking fundamental science and transitioning it to the fleet is where RDECOM shines. They do it every day, and other organizations are striving to achieve that same objective."
Lewis said AMRDEC?'s ability to rapidly move technology to the fleet and into the fight was proven during the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently, AMRDEC aviation engineers are creating the new model of the Future Vertical Lift helicopter. They are managing the program in an effort to ?"bridge the technology chasm by implementing acquisition policies and procedures so that science and technology can flow easily into an acquisition program," Lewis said.
They have also been instrumental in the development of the Blue Force Tracker, 11 of the 14 new technologies built into the AH-64E (Apache helicopter), unmanned aircraft, rotary wing technology and various other technologies for the Army?'s fleet of aircraft.
While AMRDEC?'s Aviation Development division is headquartered at Redstone at McMorrow Labs, most of its 260 employees work at Fort Eustis, Va., and Moffett Field, Calif. Its aviation enterprise includes PEO Aviation and Fort Rucker?'s Aviation Center of Excellence.
?"People think AMRDEC is Redstone centric. But we have engineers all around the world," Lewis said.
As broad as AMRDEC is throughout the world, so, too, is it with the partners it relies on in developing new technologies.
?"This is a collaborative organization. We partner with academia, industry and other government agencies to do what we do," Lewis said. ?"We are inclusive and robust in our collaborative environment. What we do is industrial based and is all part of a complex of partners that work together to create new capabilities for Soldiers."
When working on the leading edge of technology, it is important to work with partners who are also on that edge, such as NASA, the Air Force, Navy and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, he said.
?"As component technology becomes available and is enhanced, we roll it into war fighter capabilities," Lewis said. ?"We spiral technology to have an advantage over our adversaries in areas like communication and survivability. All those pieces come into play to transform ?'70s and ?'80s aircraft into machines that are effective today."
Those partners have also made a difference on the missile side of AMRDEC?'s work.
?"It takes a team to be successful," Cornelius said. ?"We are an accepted member of the user community, acquisition community and industry community. Our reputation is key to our continued success.
?"We?'ve been successful and will continue to be successful because of the skilled and dedicated engineers who have been the best and who have shared their knowledge with the engineers who will be our future. Our legacy goes back to the (Dr. Wernher) von Braun era. It gives us the opportunity to do ground breaking work. It gives us the opportunity to go forward and make a difference."
Today?'s anniversary is a celebration of that success and recognition of the success to come.
?"I think the fact that we?'ve been around as long as we have, that longevity speaks to quality products," Lewis said. ?"We couldn?'t have survived 50 years without being successful in what we do each day. The Army and our customers depend on AMRDEC to deliver quality products to our programs."
Cornelius hopes AMRDEC employees feel a sense of pride in what their organization has accomplished during the past 50 years, and what it has planned for the future.
?"Because of what has been put into place by those hard-nosed engineers of the past, we have the AMRDEC of today," he said. ?"I believe this lab is unique in the Department of Defense. The capabilities that have been put into place here, that have been developed over many years, there?'s not another place like this in the country.
?"Our focus is the work we do on Army programs. But we transition technology to all the services. The fundamental work that has been done in this building has allowed us to field systems that are still making a difference today. This is an organization that is extremely strong technically."
As the Army moves to a smaller, more expeditionary force, Lewis and Cornelius said technology will have a big role in that transformation.
?"AMRDEC knows how to deliver transformational technology," Lewis said. ?"We know how to take technology to the fight."