HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly said it’s appropriate that the Missile Defense Agency’s new six-story office center on Redstone Arsenal is part of a complex named for Dr. Wernher von Braun, whose team based in Huntsville put the nation’s first satellite and astronaut in orbit and the first men on the moon.
At ceremonies Thursday officially opening the 840,000-square-foot “Von Braun III” building, MDA Director O’Reilly said von Braun was a man with vision.
“But he also had the engineering and leadership and management skills to make his vision of space travel a reality. That is very appropriate for the work we do,” O’Reilly said. “As we struggle with developing and meeting the technical challenges associated with defeating missiles of all ranges, in all phases of flight, we too strive to achieve that vision that has been set in front of us, and make it a reality.”
Von Braun III is designed to be “the hub of missile defense for our nation,” he said, bringing together operations at MDA, the military services and allied centers in 18 time zones around the world. About 30 different MDA program offices are here now, for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, Ground-based Midcourse Defense and other systems, radars, satellites and more.
“The largest concentration of missile defense engineers anywhere in the world is in this building,” O’Reilly said. Von Braun III boasts amenities and numbers as impressive as its namesake and MDA’s mission:
- $221.8 million in construction costs, plus another $94 million for Information Technology, equipment and furnishings.
- 127 conference rooms, equipped for video-teleconferencing.
- The basement level features Secure, Compartmented Information Facilities or “SCIFs” for handling classified information above even the “Top Secret” level.
- A fitness center, small barber shop, coffee shop and privately-operated cafeteria that can seat 700 and serves about 1,200 a day.
- If the hallways were straightened out and positioned end to end, they would run 17 football fields. They’re decorated with photographs of the missile defense work force, both government and private contractors involved in research, tests and deployments around the world.
O’Reilly said the building has been designed to promote the healthy work environment “so important to achieve the goals that our country has set for us.” It also helps MDA attract the finest scientists, mathematicians, managers and others needed as worldwide threats and MDA’s mission grow, he said.
In 2004, about 1,000 people worked for MDA in the Huntsville area. Today, there are about 5,000, he said. More than 2,200 of those are in the new building, which has room for more than 2,640. Ground was broken for the Von Braun III project on April 25, 2008, and MDA took occupancy from the general contractor, Archer Western of Atlanta, on April 7, 2011.
Nearby, the Von Braun I building is home to the Army Space and Missile Defense Command; Von Braun II and now III are primarily MDA offices. O’Reilly said it’s a benefit having SMDC and other agencies next door on Redstone Arsenal as MDA works to move new technology quickly from the laboratories to test facilities and into the field.
MDA personnel were in seven large buildings around Huntsville when the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure decision was announced, he said. BRAC kept MDA headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Va., but relocated more than 2,200 positions to Redstone Arsenal, spurring demand for the new building.
A smaller “Von Braun IV” building is being considered and has been looked upon favorably by Congress, but is not yet approved, O’Reilly said. It will allow MDA to bring about 1,000 personnel still scattered in buildings around Huntsville – typically contractors supporting the government work – alongside their colleagues on the arsenal.
He expects the local workforce to remain at about 5,000.
“With attrition and retirements we’re constantly hiring,” O’Reilly said, adding that MDA benefited from hiring some managers and professionals from NASA during the space agency’s recent budget uncertainties.
“We try to be more efficient and find better ways to accomplish the mission without growing the workforce. But this is challenging work,” said O’Reilly, saying he couldn’t rule out some growth.
If Von Braun IV is approved, it will open in 2014, O’Reilly said. And it will be needed, he said.
“Unfortunately, our mission grows every day,” he said. “As the proliferation of missiles occurs around the world – and the threats to our deployed forces, our homeland and their dependents – we see the need for this mission to continue to grow.
“And this community here is a perfect incubator for not only new technologies, but future generations” of scientists and engineers – like von Braun.