REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Manufacturing milestone. Economic achievement. Technological advancement. Community partnership. Aerospace center of excellence.

Such were the words used by federal and state leaders to describe the 70,000-square-foot Raytheon Redstone Missile Integration Facility that is now officially under construction on 200 acres in the southeastern part of Redstone Arsenal near Gate 3.

During a June 27 groundbreaking ceremony that included Gov. Robert Bentley, Sen. Richard Shelby and Sen. Jeff Sessions among its speakers, Raytheon celebrated an event that has been months in the making and that needed Department of the Army approval to make happen.

Describing it as “almost like a good old-fashioned barn raising,” Dr. Taylor Lawrence, president of Raytheon Missile Systems, told those in attendance that it took the dedication and commitment of local, state and federal leaders, Garrison employees and the local Raytheon work force to bring the “most advanced automated missile manufacturing facility in the world” to the Arsenal.

“We are delighted to bring hundreds of jobs to the region that further solidify our presence … Alabama put its best foot forward in the competition to bring this facility here. Raytheon selected Huntsville on its own merits,” said Lawrence, an Alabama native.

The history of missile research and development at Redstone Arsenal and the synergy of the Arsenal’s missile defense community as well as the highly educated and available work force, the quality of life of the area and the pro-business environment all factored into Raytheon’s decision to build its largest facility outside of its headquarters in Tucson, Ariz., in Huntsville.

“This is one of the newest facilities in Raytheon and one of the largest investments in the company’s history,” William Swanson, Raytheon’s chairman and chief executive officer, said.

When completed, the facility will provide final assembly and testing for Raytheon’s Standard Missile-3 and Standard Missile-6 missiles. SM-3 is being developed as part of the Missile Defense Agency’s sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense. The missile was deployed on U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers, and Japanese destroyers to defend against short- to intermediate-range ballistic missile threat s in the ascent and midcourse phases of flight. SM-6 is an extended range anti-air warfare missile fired from Navy ships against fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missiles.

Raytheon’s $75 million facility will be built in two phases. The first phase will be completed in about a year and the second by January 2014. Much of the facility will be automated and built with state-of-the-art technology that makes it a “factory of the future,” Lawrence said.

About 300 employees will work at the facility once it is complete, bringing Raytheon’s total local work force to nearly 1,000.

“You chose a great area,” Bentley said. “We’ve done a lot in this state to diversify and grow the car industry. Now let’s move forward to produce more and more in the aerospace industry. I believe aerospace is the next phase of diversification of manufacturing in this state.”

The governor pointed out that Alabama produces per capita more Soldiers than any other state in the nation. That deep-down patriotism also grows the military presence at Redstone Arsenal.

“I want to thank the people of this area who have worked so hard,” Bentley said. “We have the hardest workers in the country. We must never forget it’s the people who make things work. It’s your engineers, you’re ordinary workers who will build this plant, and they are doing it to protect America.”

The Raytheon facility is significant in many ways, Shelby said, but especially because it brings “research and manufacturing together here.”

Shelby spoke of the support the Arsenal as well as Raytheon can expect from the U.S. congressional delegation.

“You’re going to do well and we’re going to makes sure you do well,” he said. “We’re going to work hard in Washington (D.C.). We’re going to make sure it’s funded. This deals with national security.”

The progress of both phases of construction is tied to SM-3 and SM-6 production contracts. Funding for those contracts is essential to the continued mission of the U.S. military in defending freedom around the world, said Sen. Jeff Sessions.

“National defense depends on U.S. domination of air and space,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to defend our nation, and protect our satellites and communication systems, and we can’t leave our Soldiers vulnerable to rogue nations.”

Sessions said Redstone Arsenal was the perfect choice for Raytheon’s missile plant. “This community represents the best technology community for missile defense anywhere in the country,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, commander of the Missile Defense Agency, said the Raytheon facility is a “tremendous asset to growing missile defense for this country.”

The missiles being produced by Raytheon will not only protect the nation’s current freedoms but will also be able to “perform critical missions 20 to 30 years from now.”

For Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers, senior commander of Redstone and the commanding general for the Aviation and Missile Command, Monday’s groundbreaking is “bigger than just the Army here.”

Describing it as a joint operation among Department of Defense programs, Rogers said “this is a huge deal for us. It’s a great opportunity for us to leverage what we have here at this installation to serve this great nation.”