October 1, 2012

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Mission Critical

Hill Air Force Base is a Core Engine in Utah’s Economy

Gaylen Webb

October 1, 2012

Software maintenance group
One of Hill’s fastest-growing groups is the software maintenance group. In 2001, there were 300 software engineers working on the base. Today there are 1,200, due in large part to the fact that the electronics and software within Air Force planes are becoming increasingly complicated.

Hill AFB is Capability Maturity Model Integrated (CMMI) at level five, which places it in the top 3 percent or so of all software organizations worldwide—not just government, but all software companies, according to Sutton. The distinction sets Hill apart from all U.S. bases except Warner Robins AFB in Georgia.

Future So Bright
Every time DOD mentions potential base closures or reductions, the future of Hill AFB falls into question. In fact, the Ogden Air Logistics Center was downgraded to a complex this summer and is now led by a one-star general, rather than a two-star general. At the same time, the 309th Maintenance Wing was deactivated and Hill lost about 150 jobs.

These changes are troubling, especially in light of a new round of BRAC that may happen in the next two or three years. But Hill has some inherent strengths that make it less likely to fall under the ax.

In fact, robots taking care of robots might be what keeps Utah’s Hill Air Force Base viable in the future.

At least that’s the vision of Sutton, who believes the future of robotics is now, simply because of the propensity of the Air Force, the Army, the Navy and the Marine Corp to increase the number of robots used as substitutes for human beings in high-threat environments.

“We are already using robots in a big way. At the beginning of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, we had probably, 20 or 30—maybe 100—robots on the ground. The last numbers I saw indicated something like 30,000 robots are on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan—for all kinds of things, for all types of missions. And it is only going to get more so. So you have this potential explosion of workload and of capability that I think is, frankly, something that Hill can do and do well,” he explains. “We certainly have the competencies to do it.”

Hill’s maintenance wing has about 8,500 people in it, most of whom are blue-collar workers who sustain systems. Sutton visualizes a not-so-distant future when that sustainment capability becomes robotically dependent. “At that point, how many of those blue-collar employees do I need?” he asks. “Now it becomes more white collar—it becomes the programmers, it becomes the people who take care of the robots.”

It’s a crazy thought, but one that is fundamental to the need for the base to reinvent itself to stay viable. One new area where Hill is reinventing itself involves stealth technology. The new “radar cross section revalidation facility” under construction at Hill is the first of its kind—anywhere. When finished, the Air Force will use it to illuminate its F-35 and F-22 stealth aircraft with radar and revalidate their radar signatures via computer models rather than having to fly the stealth planes on a test range.

The new scanning facility, designed in a collaborative effort between Hill AFB, the Air Force Research Lab and Lockheed Martin, reflects the expanding high-tech capabilities of Hill AFB—capabilities that would be difficult to replicate elsewhere.

Hill Air Force Base…
Accounts for 50,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Pumps $3.6 billion annually into the Utah economy.
Creates $2.3 billion in personal income annually.
Creates tax revenue of $192 million annually.
Employs 23,000 military and civilian workers.
Falcon Hill Park is expected to create 15,000 jobs.

Magnet For Growth
Hill AFB continues to attract ancillary companies and industries that thrive in proximity to the base. Hill is known for its centers of excellence in advanced composites, software maintenance, aircraft maintenance and missile maintenance, and for its new Falcon Hill aerospace park and new capability in unmanned aerial vehicle maintenance.

In aviation and aerospace alone, Hill has attracted to Utah companies such as General Dynamics, ATK, L-3 Communications, Northrop Grumman, The Boeing Company, Lockheed-Martin, Janicki Industries, Williams International, Moog Aircraft, Barnes Aerospace, FMC Jetway Systems, Parker-Hannifin, Duncan Aviation and SkyWest Airlines.

Utah’s high concentration of aerospace companies makes it one of the top states in the nation in terms of aerospace employment. That’s according to GOED, which reports that aerospace- and defense-related companies in Utah employ approximately 42,000 people.

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