The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

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    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

4 days ago

Guest: What’s next for Anniston Army Depot, Maxwell AFB, Fort Rucker?

(Maxwell Air Force Base, USAACE and Fort Rucker, Anniston Army Depot/Facebook, YHN)

With the approaching retirement of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), along with several new faces in Alabama’s congressional delegation, the state’s defense industry and leaders are rightly concerned about the flow of federal dollars running dry in the coming years. However, with a little under two years left of Shelby’s term and the remainder of the Alabama delegation well positioned to cement his legacy securing key defense funding for the state, it is not all doom and gloom.

This is the second of a three-article series covering the top challenges for Alabama’s state and federal leaders to ensure the state’s continued dominance as a defense industry powerhouse. While the first article focused on North Alabama and the effort to maintain U.S. Space Command’s basing in Huntsville, this article will cover the needs of the broadly defined Central Alabama defense industry.

Unlike North Alabama, Central Alabama’s defense equities are spread across a wide geographical area. For the purposes of this article, this area starts northeast of Birmingham at the Anniston Army Depot and runs as far south as Fort Rucker in the Wiregrass. The third article in this series will cover the defense issues of the Alabama Gulf Coast, which is confined to Alabama’s First Congressional District.

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Central Alabama’s military and defense footprint, while less concentrated than North Alabama’s, is significant and provides a large economic impact on the state. The main challenges facing this area are consistent workload for the Anniston Army Depot, state and local-level issues that risk continued military investment in and around Montgomery, and maintaining investment and resources for Fort Rucker.

Beginning at Anniston Army Depot, Alabama’s congressional delegation will need to undertake considerable efforts to ensure continued workload for the depot. Depots are used by the Army to maintain and upgrade its equipment to meet warfighter needs and maintain U.S. military readiness. In Anniston, that has included work on critical wheeled and tracked combat vehicles including the M1 Abrams tank and the Stryker combat vehicle. Notably, Anniston Army Depot was charged with outfitting the Army’s combat vehicles with upgraded armor on their hulls to protect occupants from improvised explosive devices, a go-to weapon for insurgents and terrorists attacking American troops in the Middle East over the last two decades.

Depots live and die on the amount of workload sent to them by the Army, sometimes directed by Congress as part of policy or funding bills. When a depot lacks strong workload, it is vulnerable to being closed as part of efforts by the Army and Defense Department to streamline business practices by centralizing its footprint. Lack of workload also opens arsenals, depots and bases to the threat of base realignment and closures, commonly referred to as BRAC, by which the Defense Department systematically combines and closes installations to achieve better efficiency.

To ensure Anniston Army Depot remains safe from BRAC or other efforts to close installations, the Alabama federal representation will need to team up to continue the flow of Army vehicles sent to the depot for maintenance or upgrade.

Alabama is well position to do just that. Shelby will remain the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Defense Subcommittee which approves all funds for the military. His new colleague, Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), secured a coveted position on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is the chief policy committee for defense and military issues. This combination of policy and funding committee assignments positions Shelby and Tuberville well to complement each other’s efforts to support Anniston Army Depot.

Similarly, Alabama’s representatives in the House are members of both policy and funding committees covering defense. Most of all, Representative Mike Rogers (AL-03), whose district includes Anniston Army Depot, recently became the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee where he will lead GOP efforts on defense policy. He is joined on that committee by Representatives Mo Brooks (AL-05) and Jerry Carl (AL-01), who will likely be able to provide advocacy and key votes on workload for Anniston.

Additionally, Representative Robert Aderholt (AL-04) holds a powerful position on the House Appropriations Committee and its Defense Subcommittee where, like Shelby, he will be able to influence funding bills for the military.

The second issue facing Central Alabama’s defense industry is not just an issue for federal lawmakers, but also state and local leaders. The Montgomery area is home to a large Air Force presence centered around Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, which hosts major training and education facilities. Maxwell is also home to the 100th Fighter Squadron, which descended from the famed Tuskegee Airmen’s “Redtails” squadron and is the future home to a squadron of F-35 stealth fighter aircraft.

However, it is not the military or federal funding that threatens the long-term viability of the Air Force footprint in Montgomery, it is the poor state of the local K-12 education system. Montgomery public schools have a well-documented history of poor academic performance, and Maxwell is ranked No. 150 out of the Air Force’s 154 installations in terms of the local public education quality. If state and local leaders fail to reverse the issues Montgomery schools face, they risk the Air Force deciding to forgo awarding future contracts or programs to Maxwell.

Leaders at the local level and the not-so-distant State House, should move quickly to determine the root causes of the underperforming schools and work to provide the necessary resources and policy changes to remedy the issues. Each passing year this issue goes unsolved, the more likely it is that the Air Force will look elsewhere at the cost of thousands of jobs and more than $1 billion in economic impact in the Montgomery area.

RELATED: Alabama House sends to Ivey’s desk legislation making Alabama more friendly to military families

The third major issue for the Central Alabama defense industry is continued investment for Fort Rucker. With the retirement of former Representative Marth Roby (AL-02), who served on the House Armed Services Committee, and newly elected Representative Barry Moore (AL-02) lacking a seat on that committee, Fort Rucker lost a key supporter at the federal level. Moore can still work with Representatives Rogers and Carl to advocate Fort Rucker’s needs, but the loss of Roby has the delegation fighting with one hand behind its back.

Fort Rucker is the primary training location for the Army’s rotary-wing (helicopter) pilots. This designation requires large swaths of training territory, maintenance funds and investment in emerging technologies to protect the Army’s reputation as the world’s preeminent air assault and rotary transportation force. This has never been more important than now as the Army seeks an eventually replacements for its Blackhawk and Apache helicopters, which will require additional resources at Fort Rucker to field and train Army pilots on the new systems.

Rogers, Moore and Carl, whose combined district residents primarily staff Fort Rucker, will need to work in close coordination with their Senate colleagues to secure Fort Rucker’s continued leadership in these areas.

The Central Alabama defense industry’s future, and that of the entire state, rests in the seniority and numbers of its federal representation on key committees. Shelby and Rogers’ respective leadership roles on the appropriations and armed services committees, combined with Tuberville, Brooks, Carl and Aderholt’s strategic positions in Washington, leave Alabama in a great position to succeed. The challenge will be coordinating the efforts across the delegation to ensure maximum success of their legislative efforts, which can be difficult and uncommon in the politically charged, frantically busy halls of the Capitol and congressional offices.

Jake Proctor is a former intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency and previously held staff and defense policy positions for U.S. Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Luther Strange (R-AL), and Joni Ernst (R-IA). He is a Birmingham native and graduate of the University of Alabama and the U.S. Air Command and Staff College.

1 week ago

Challenges, opportunities ahead as North Alabama strives to remain an epicenter of America’s national security industry

(Team Redstone/Facebook, Wikicommons, YHN)

It is no secret that Alabama contributes heavily to the U.S. national defense. From rocket manufacturing facilities and Redstone Arsenal in North Alabama to the shipbuilders and Coast Guard base on the Gulf Coast, Alabama is key to the military, intelligence community, law enforcement and space sectors.

What many may not know is how reliant these industries are on politics and policy at the federal and state levels. For decades, the Alabama congressional delegation, led by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), has consistently secured authorization and funding for major defense and space projects to be completed in the Yellowhammer State. These efforts require countless hours of appropriations and policy negotiations in Washington, enabled by Shelby’s seniority on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

With Shelby set to retire in 2022 and several new faces in the congressional delegation, the Alabama defense industry and state leaders are concerned about the flow of federal dollars running dry in the coming years. However, it is not all doom and gloom. U.S. Representatives Mike Rogers (AL-03), Robert Aderholt (AL-04) and Mo Brooks (AL-05) continue to hold key positions which will help continue Alabama’s dominance in the defense industry. In addition to these veteran lawmakers, newly elected U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) and U.S. Representative Jerry Carl (AL-01) secured key committee and subcommittee assignments which will further aid in these efforts.

This article is the first of three covering the major challenges and opportunities the Alabama congressional delegation and state leaders will face to maintain Alabama’s preeminence in national security. Covering all of Alabama’s defense interests would take a more in-depth and lengthy study, so this is by no means intended to serve as an encyclopedic record of all the incredible work being performed in the state.

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The natural geographical starting point for this topic is North Alabama, home to some of the state’s — and the nation’s — most treasured defense manufacturers, headquarters and program offices. Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville houses NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the Missile Defense Agency, the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Center, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center and the FBI’s future “HQ 2” among many other government offices. The Rocket City also hosts countless defense contractors including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Dynetics and Raytheon Technologies who perform most of the work to support the government presence in North Alabama.

While there are many pressing priorities in North Alabama for its leaders in Washington, there is one that requires the most effort, as its success could drive further growth — while its demise could be devastating.

This issue is protecting the Air Force’s decision to base U.S. Space Command in Huntsville. The Space Command decision, made in the final weeks of the Trump administration, is being contested by states who claim the decision was political in nature and represents a final effort by the former president to punish states he failed to secure in the 2020 election. Senators from California, Colorado, Nebraska and New Mexico have been vocal supporters of reopening the basing decisions, leading the Defense Department’s inspector general to open an inquiry into their accusations.

The good news is that the facts are on the side of Alabama, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin — an Alabama native — and the Air Force have defended the original decision to base Space Command in Huntsville. The area’s relatively low cost of living, deep talent pool of highly qualified personnel, its growing federal footprint and the availability of the necessary facilities at Redstone Arsenal are what drove the Air Force’s decision, not politics.

That said, Huntsville is not out of the woods yet. The efforts to reopen the basing decision process will continue given the economic impacts at stake. The Alabama congressional delegation must continually combat the effort, which they are well equipped to do.

To start, Shelby still has about two years left in his term, during which he will continue his role as the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Defense Subcommittee which oversees all military and intelligence community funding.

Additionally, Shelby’s new colleague,  Tuberville, secured a coveted spot on the Senate Armed Services Committee and its Strategic Forces Subcommittee that oversees military space programs. With these assignments, he will be at the table for all major policy and legislative negotiations on the military issues, including any legislation covering Space Command basing. Shelby and Tuberville will need to team up and coordinate their efforts on their respective committees to combat any legislative efforts to deprive Huntsville of Space Command.

Another major tool for Alabama is the key positions its representatives hold in the lower chamber. Rogers recently became the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, where he will be the decisive voice on military issues for House Republicans. Rogers is a long-time supporter of Space Command, having previously chaired the Armed Services subcommittee covering military space issues and helped lead the effort to create Space Command and the Space Force. Space Force is the newest military branch and is responsible for organizing, training and equipping space personnel for the joint force, including to Space Command which is charged with fighting and winning future wars that extend into space.

Also on the House Armed Services Committee are Brooks — who has now been endorsed by Trump to replace Shelby in the Senate — and newly elected U.S. Representative Jerry Carl (AL-01); they will also be able to lend a voice and vote to the effort to retain Space Command.

Lastly, but certainly not least, Aderholt is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and, like Shelby, is also a member of the Defense Subcommittee. Aderholt, who serves as the ranking Republican on the subcommittee governing NASA’s budget, will be able to multiply the efforts of Rogers, Brooks and Carl through advocacy and language in appropriations bills and negotiations for the next fiscal year.

In all, Alabama’s strong representation on the House and Senate committees governing military spending and policy will be key to safeguarding Space Command’s presence in North Alabama. With a combined effort, it will be difficult for states to scuttle the economic impact Space Command will supply not only to Huntsville, but the entire state and Tennessee Valley region.

Beyond Space Command, there are many other important issues to be minded in Washington. The Huntsville-based ICBM-defense program, continued investments in hypersonic weapons being built by Dynetics and Lockheed, and support for United Launch Alliance’s world-class space launch vehicle manufacturing facility in Decatur are among the many challenges lying ahead. Each of these, and many more, will require concerted and coordinated efforts by Alabama’s federal and state elected leaders to maintain North Alabama’s role as an epicenter of America’s national security industry.

Jake Proctor is a former intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency and previously held staff and defense policy positions for U.S. Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Luther Strange (R-AL), and Joni Ernst (R-IA). He is a Birmingham native and graduate of the University of Alabama and the U.S. Air Command and Staff College.