The company announced plans for the 70,000-square-foot facility in last July. But, since the plant is on the Army’s Redstone Arsenal grounds – at the site of the former Morton Thiokol facilities – the negotiations and agreements involve a number of entities, said Wes Kremer, Raytheon’s SM-3 program director.
“We are making significant progress,” he said in a telephone interview last week. “In the very near future we will be announcing the groundbreaking ceremony on that. We’re very anxious to move ahead with that.”
The SM-3 missiles and variants under development are used by the Navy’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense ships. They are a part of the Missile Defense Agency’s overall “layered” BMD program, which uses sensors and radars to detect an enemy ballistic missile launch, track the incoming threat, and fire missiles to hit and destroy it.
The SM-3 is to play a major role in the U.S. and NATO-supported European Phased Adaptive Approach to enhancing missile defense in Europe over the next decade. Phase 1 includes deploying the current SM-3 Block 1A missile, he said. That began a few weeks ago as the USS Monterey departed Norfolk, Va., for a six-month deployment with a complement of the missiles.
In mid-April there will be a major test of the system, “essentially a graduation exercise to demonstrate the Phase 1 capability,” Kremer said. It will involve all the appropriate BMD elements, including the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, land- and sea-based radars, the AEGIS weapons system, and the command and control centers, and will fire an SM-3 1A to shoot down an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
“It is a very good end-to-end test of a realistic operational scenario,” he said.
Phase 2 of the EPAA, set for about 2015, involves deployment of an advanced version of the SM-3, the Block 1B, which significantly increases its capability, Kremer said. It can better discriminate the “real” enemy missile from decoys, from farther away, hitting and destroying it with a kinetic-energy warhead.
The first flight test of the SM-3 1B is set for late summer, he said. It will be a sea-based test, but the same missile is also to be deployed in Europe in a land-based system under development. Kremer said the Huntsville plant will be critical to meeting production demands for the missile.
The Raytheon plant on the arsenal will also be home to the final assembly of the SM-6, an extended-range anti-air-warfare missile for the Navy, he said.
“There’s a significant portion of the SM-3 and SM-6 missile that is common, so building this integration facility is an investment for Raytheon, but it’s also the right strategy for the warfighter and the government,” he said. “Both of those missiles play a very key role for the Navy in the future.”
There are plans for even more highly developed versions of the SM-3 scheduled for later phases of the Phased Adaptive Approach, and Raytheon is fully engaged in the Missile Defense Agency’s competition to design the next-generation Aegis missile, Kremer said. The plant on the arsenal is part of the company’s strategy for those projects and more.
“There’s a long and bright future in front of SM-3 and SM-6,” he said. “That’s part of the reason we’re building the facility, and we believe it will be a long-term presence in Huntsville, and, I think, that’s good for both of us, for the community and for Raytheon.”
There aren’t many places in the U.S. where these kinds of missiles can be tested and assembled, Kremer said. And, on the arsenal, the company is also close to MDA offices and many of Raytheon’s other customers.
“Raytheon is very proud to be putting that facility in Huntsville,” he said “It’s very important for us. We did an extensive search across the country and decided on Huntsville as the best location.”
At the announcement last July, Raytheon indicated the new plant could create about 300 jobs. The company’s Warfighter Protection Center here already employs about 600 and is the only location that has representatives of all six Raytheon business units: Integrated Defense Systems, Intelligence and Information Systems, Missile Systems, Network Centric Systems, Technical Services, and Space and Airborne Systems.