HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - How much do you really know about Redstone Arsenal? What about the amount of money it generates for the local and state economy?
Members of the public learned that and more Wednesday as officials outlined work underway to support soldiers and the rest of us with missile defense and revealed more on what the future holds for the installation.
A crowd of hundreds at the Von Braun Center's North Hall was given a peek behind the curtain of Redstone Arsenal as the highest ranking military leaders and senior executives discussed its mission and global influence. The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce hosts the event, called the "Redstone Update" each year.
"It is quite frankly the leader in supporting national defense, law enforcement, and space exploration. There is no other organization, other arsenal, installation, location that does it to the extent that we do it here," said Lt. Gen. Edward Daly, senior commander of Redstone Arsenal. "I continuously refer to the partnership between the Tennessee Valley and Redstone Arsenal as the gold standard. I truly mean that and it's because of you all- the local community and our great industry partners."
Redstone Arsenal powers roughly half of the Huntsville metro economy, and commands and agencies on the Arsenal are responsible for the management of more than $50 billion in federal spending.
Officials highlighted its diverse roles and missions, providing insight about the commands, federal agencies and organizations on the installation.
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center was first up and director Todd May said it's been a big year for the center.
"We're building the rocket that's going to take humans out into deep space again. We have a team that's going to study x-ray polar imagery in the deep universe, some of the most powerful forces in the universe. We're doubling the research on the international space station. It's just an exciting time to be part of the agency," he said.
The Missile Defense Agency discussed their increasing capabilities to address the growing threats with Iran and North Korea, who has shown its commitment to long range missile technology.
"This is what we face today. It's real. It's happening every day. We just had another test yesterday," said program director Stan Thomas. "One of the challenges is to be able to build these targets fast enough so that we can test them. We're on about a five year cycle from when we have a requirement to when we can get a target down range. We're going to have to get faster because the threat is getting faster."
The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command also briefed the audience. It manages the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site and execute the Army's space operations and space surveillance missions.
"We have to get capabilities to the hands of the war fighter. It's about the war fighter and giving them the tools they need to do the job," said Thomas Webber, director of SMDC.
The FBI addressed their explosive growth on the arsenal including a new lab to analyze terrorist IEDs. Agents can reconstruct the bombs and try to trace them back to bad actors across the world to aid in investigations and try to stop attacks from happening.
An interim regional computer forensics lab is also up and running. It provides hacking capabilities and crews can take computers, tablets, cell phones, and if state and local agencies don't have access to that equipment, they can bring that evidence to the FBI lab.
"We get into it and help them exploit what is on that device," said FBI Redstone senior executive Robert Hamilton. "It's fantastic to have that kind of capability. I believe we have about 16 of them across the country but this is the one that services the southeast now."
The FBI also has a new interim training center with long range goals on the arsenal.
"We see a vision for the FBI of this becoming a subject matter expert type of training environment down here. We will continue and will most likely always have Quantico as our new agents and analysts training but as our agents, analysts and professional staff go on in their careers in the FBI, we see them coming down here and being part of a major training facility down the road," Hamilton said.
He touched on the Hazardous Devises School that's been on Redstone for more than 40 years. It's where all state and local bomb techs are trained, as well as the FBI's special agent bomb techs.
Significant renovations have been done to their villages, which provide different scenarios for training like a church, or airplane.
The FBI's Ballistics Research Facility and Defensive Systems Unit are relocating from Quantico to Redstone.
"They make major decisions like the FBI's service weapon. They also do major analysis on bullets and how bullets come out of weapons and the impact on different environments and mediums. They are a world renowned capability that will be here for the long haul and will be a major piece of what we provide," Hamilton explained.
LTG Daly spoke at a luncheon after the morning briefings and revealed that Redstone Arsenal provides nearly $500 million in annual tax revenue that's infused into the local and state economy.
Part of its 20-year master plan is to finalize Exploration Park- a proposed joint-use area directly south of the U.S Space and Rocket Center.
Officials also want to make the golf course and hotels more accessible to the public and they plan to expand Defense Park and develop Technology Park.
Upgrades are also planned for the Riverfront Area.
Retired Col. Bill Marks, former garrison commander, said Redstone's growth is a result of a team effort on arsenal and in Tennessee Valley and called it the most strategically important installation to our nation.
"The synergy that happens on the arsenal and in the community every day. They have the ability to leverage the skilled workforce that's already here and take part in some of the similar types of operations going on on the arsenal every day," he said.
Redstone employs 104,000 people and generates $18 billion for the local economy.
"The arsenal is big and important and it's getting bigger and becoming more important. The future looks very bright for Redstone. The mission set that they have out there right now in space exploration, with the FBI and the military continues to be growing so I think we can expect more good things out of the arsenal," said Mike Ward with the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.
"I think you're big takeaway is that we're doing a lot of crucial missions for the United States, to keep our country safe and keep our allies safe. those crucial missions are going to keep on expanding so we see a lots of energy coming out of the arsenal but that energy is one that is so crucial to the nation because it keeps us safe," added Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.
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