Boeing’s Alabama operations boost key space, defense programs

A longtime pillar of Alabama’s aerospace industry, Boeing continues to break ground in the state.

Whether it’s designing commercial aircraft, developing missile weapons systems or testing for next-generation, human-rated rockets, the aviation juggernaut’s Alabama operations figure prominently into building U.S. space and defense programs.

Boeing’s Alabama workforce numbers about 2,750 people who work at two main facilities in Huntsville. The company also supports thousands of other jobs at nearly 200 in-state suppliers and vendors.

“Boeing in Huntsville has achieved unparalleled success in space technology through their work with NASA legacy projects, and now the Space Launch System,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.

Boeing Huntsville’s Research and Technology Center is leading the charge in developing the next generation of aerospace materials, is advancing the use of big data to solve complex problems and remains at the forefront of ensuring efficient and safe transportation for commercial vehicles,” Battle added.

Aerospace giant Boeing opened its Alabama Research & Technology Center in Huntsville in June 2015, building on its long-standing presence in the Rocket City. (Boeing)

Aerospace giant Boeing opened its Alabama Research & Technology Center in Huntsville in June 2015, building on its long-standing presence in the Rocket City. (Boeing)

Boeing is a key success story for Alabama’s aerospace and defense sector, comprising more than 400 companies and more than 83,000 jobs.

The state’s economic development team, looking to build on those numbers, is courting prospects this week at the Farnborough International Airshow. The mission is being led by Gov. Robert Bentley, who will meet with Boeing officials on site.

Defense and space

Strategic Missile & Defense Systems is a core business area for Boeing in Alabama, as are Space Exploration and the Space Launch System (SLS), NASA’s most powerful rocket.

The company was responsible for the design, development, construction and integration of the International Space Station and now supports ongoing research done aboard the world’s largest on-orbit lab.

In other NASA projects, Boeing is working toward the first flight of SLS in 2018, an important step on the journey to Mars.

Vertical Lift Sustainment is another main business area for Boeing in Alabama, with operations that support Apache and Chinook helicopters and other military aircraft.

Meanwhile, the Boeing Research and Technology Center, which opened a year ago in Huntsville, is a hub for the company’s technology development.

In June, Boeing held a groundbreaking to mark the expansion of the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Seeker facility in Huntsville. The 28,000-square-foot facility will include machinery and other capabilities to support the missile defense program for the U.S. Army.

To date, Boeing has delivered more than 2,700 PAC-3 missile seekers, and the expansion will increase production and add about 70 jobs.

“Today’s event is another example in a long line of milestones that demonstrate Boeing and its industry partners’ commitment to this community, our state and to the U.S. Army,” Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey said at the groundbreaking. “It is a clear indication that you are developing innovative technology and real-life solutions for your military customers.”

Growing operations

In other recent developments tied to its Alabama operations, Boeing executed a successful flight test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system at the beginning of the year. GMD is designed to detect, intercept and destroy long-range ballistic missiles.

A major Boeing missile project in Alabama is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense initiative. (Missile Defense Agency)

A major Boeing missile project in Alabama is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense initiative. (Missile Defense Agency)

“Boeing developed GMD and remains committed to continuing the evolution of this national level homeland defense asset and has been a key player in its improvements and enhancements over the last decade,” said Dexter Henson, a spokesman for Boeing Strategic Missile & Defense Systems.

One of the main initiatives for Strategic Missile & Defense Systems is a competition for the U.S. Air Force’s Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, called Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.

“We are also working on numerous initiatives related to directed energy to assist (Department of Defense) warfighters in addressing unmanned aerial systems threats,” Henson said. “Boeing’s investment in this technology has all been self-funded.”

The company has a significant economic impact in Alabama, with $532 million in annual expenditures at Alabama suppliers and vendors.

In addition, Boeing and its Alabama employees contribute time and money, estimated at $1.7 million in 2015 alone, to charitable organizations in local communities.

Boeing’s future in Alabama is bright, Henson said.

“Boeing will continue to grow its operations to meet emerging customer needs through its diverse platform of products, particularly in space exploration, homeland defense, modeling and simulation, always striving to improve products through research, development and new technologies that solve requirements and create safer flight,” he said.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.