Missiles -- and the advanced technology and automation that can be used to build them -- have brought Randy Stevenson back to his North Alabama roots.
The Raytheon executive and Athens native, who is the director for the company's Weapon Integration Center, has lived away from his hometown for about 30 years. He is now back home, leading a construction building project that will re-introduce missile assembly and production to the Redstone Arsenal industrial mix later this year. The production milestone represents more than a four-year effort to build a facility to accommodate production demands for the Standard Missile-3 and Standard Missile-6, two ballistic missiles associated with the nation's worldwide missile defense strategy.
Today, the $75 million, 70,000-square-foot Raytheon Redstone Missile Integration Facility is well under way with construction at a 200-acre site in the northern most corner of the Arsenal's southeastern section near Gate 3. Hiring for its 130 employees is now under way with a ribbon cutting set for late November. The first missile is set to come off the production line Jan. 22.
"Everything is on schedule. Construction is on schedule. We are sustaining our budget," Stevenson said.
"This will be the most technologically advanced missile factory in the world. We are building this facility based on about 10 years of research in advanced technologies and automation used in today's automotive, appliance, electronics and other industries. This missile factory will be different from all others in its use of automatic guided vehicles and robotics, and it will be innovative as well in its factory culture. It will promote mission assurance at the highest level and reduce cost to the taxpayer through innovation."
The Garrison's Directorate of Public Works has worked closely with Raytheon to bring the project to fruition. Although a commercial tenant, the Raytheon facility was desirable because it fits well with the Arsenal's work in the field of explosive operations and in bringing diversity to the installation.
"The addition of the Raytheon missile manufacturing facility on Redstone
Arsenal further solidifies this region as a cornerstone of the advanced missile technology industry," Garrison commander Col. John Hamilton said.
"Their decision to locate this facility here speaks highly of what this community has to offer -- economic stability, opportunities for key partnerships, a highly-skilled work force and great quality of life. The Garrison is excited to include them as one of our tenants and as a member of Team Redstone."
Raytheon is building on the site that was once used by Thiokol Corp. for missile production. The Thiokol facility was closed in the mid-1990s.
"This project helps bring manufacturing back to this installation," Craig Northridge, program manager for the Directorate of Public Works, said.
"It allows for the greater utilization of Arsenal land that is dedicated to explosive operations. It further diversifies our work force and expands the installation's support to the Department of Defense. Putting this operation in an area where similar operations historically occurred just makes a lot of sense."
And yet, the Raytheon facility nearly didn't happen at Redstone.
In October 2008, Raytheon approached the Garrison to discuss a possible land lease for construction and operation of the new missile assembly building. At the time, there was no available space to accommodate Raytheon's requirements. In May 2009, the Alabama Development Office requested another review of land availability for the proposed Raytheon facility. At that time, appropriate land was identified that met both the installation master plan and project requirements due to changes in proposed Military Construction-Army projects for Redstone.
In January 2010, Raytheon verbally confirmed to the Garrison their intent to pursue coming to Redstone. Once the Army approved the 25-year and 25-year-option property lease, the project was announced publicly and a groundbreaking ceremony at the site was held in late June 2011.
"I was given the responsibility to find a location for the new facility," Stevenson said. "We had outgrown our present capability for large missile manufacturing, so we had to do this. We just didn't have to do it in Huntsville."
The Raytheon site selection committee, led by Stevenson, reviewed 130 sites, with 20 of those actually visited.
"We looked at all the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) 2005 sites to consider every government facility abandoned or closed in association with BRAC," Stevenson said.
In the end, three sites -- Camden, Ark., where Raytheon already has a missile production site; Tucson, Ariz., home to Raytheon's Missile Systems headquarters; and Huntsville -- made the short list for the new missile production facility. It was Huntsville/Redstone Arsenal that offered the "best of the best" combination of location, state economic incentives, quality of life, availability of an educated work force, transportation, security and safety, and a host of other factors reviewed by a Raytheon site selection committee led by Stevenson.
"Huntsville had three big things going for it," Stevenson said. "First, it was unique because, of our 350 facilities, it is our only worldwide location with all six of our business elements represented at our facility in Cummings Research Park. Second, Redstone Arsenal offered us lots of benefits in terms of site, transportation with air, rail, road and water all available, safety and security, and all the quality of life things like schools, healthcare and entertainment. Third, the state of Alabama offered us the best incentive package."
The project also gained the support of both Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and his successor Gov. Robert Bentley along with support of Sen. Richard Shelby, Sen. Jeff Sessions and all of Alabama's elected state and federal officials.
The amenities offered by Huntsville/Redstone Arsenal speak for themselves when it comes to winning the project.
For instance, Redstone offers multi-model transportation that allows them various ways for missile delivery.
Huntsville/Redstone was recommended for the missile production facility over such locations as the Anniston Army Depot, and military installations in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee and Oklahoma because it was the winner in an extensive analysis of sites that involved 15 weighted elements analyzed by Raytheon's experts in those areas. Stevenson, who, despite having grown up in Athens, had been away from the area for about 30 years, recused
himself from the analysis when Redstone emerged as a leader because he didn't want the decision to appear biased.
"We were looking for existing facilities we could modernize for our requirements," he said. "We wanted to minimize capital for the whole footprint and minimize time."
But there were no existing facilities that fit the requirements. With the decision to bring a new facility online at Redstone, Raytheon grew its missile production capability to four facilities, with the three others located at Tucson, Ariz., Camden, Ark., and McAllister, Okla. In addition, Raytheon in Huntsville became the headquarters for the company's Weapon Integration Center.
"A state requirement for our incentive package was to establish a headquarters in Alabama with facilities outside the state reporting to that location," Stevenson said. "So, our engineering support services will increase here and the Weapon Integration Center will be moving to our Cummings Research Park location."
In the end, the project will bring 300 jobs to Huntsville, with 130 of those jobs associated with the missile production facility at Redstone and another 170 jobs focused on other Huntsville and Department of Defense related activities based out of Redstone. Those jobs will be added to the 550 Raytheon employees already located in Huntsville.
Currently, Raytheon is working with Alabama Industrial Development and Training to recruit, hire and train the missile integration technicians, engineers and support staff needed for the new facility. The jobs, which will require a secret security clearance, will offer salaries that are competitive for the local market, Stevenson said. Those interested can apply at www.aidt.edu/jobs aidt.com or http://jobs.raytheon.com/.
SM-3 is part of the Missile Defense Agency's sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, with deployment on Navy cruisers and destroyers, on Japanese destroyers to defend against short- to intermediate-range ballistic missile threats in the ascent and midcourse phases of flight, and at land-based sites in Europe. 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.
Standard Missile-3 missiles are already in production at Raytheon's Camden, Ark., facility. When complete, all SM-3 production along with missile depot maintenance and recertification will be moved to the Redstone Arsenal facility.
"SM-3 has been in production for several years at Tucson and Camden. There are more than 130 SM-3s on ships today. At certain periods of time, these missiles will have to be taken out of inventory and sent to Redstone for depot maintenance and recertification," Stevenson said.
But the first missile set to come off the production line will be the new SM-6, which will be delivered to the Navy. Before they leave the facility, each missile is tested with the use of automated guided vehicles that move the missile down a concrete corridor into a test cell that uses a comprehensive, multi-layered system of protection from any potential explosion. Automatic controls guide the vehicles through the corridors to the test cells. It is the safest and has the highest explosive capacity of any of Raytheon's missile production facilities.
Once SM-3 and SM-6 production is under way, it will take two to three weeks to produce a missile.
"We can grow well beyond that with this facility," Stevenson said. "We need this capability to meet DoD contract requirements.
"The ability for us to start this facility on schedule and to grow to meet the rates expected for the new facility is very aggressive. All we are doing has to be coordinated very effectively to ensure we can produce to schedule to give the war fighter what they need when they need it because everything we do is in support of the war fighter."