Year in review: Aerospace and defense

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Unmanned aerial vehicles such as this could be tested in Colorado Springs and along the Front Range.

Unmanned aerial vehicles such as this could be tested in Colorado Springs and along the Front Range.

This year has produced negatives and positives: While the region has potential to become something great by way of unmanned (drone) testing and continued growth in the field, it also faces fiscal barriers because of the federal budget issues and potential for a decrease in military presence.


January 31

Army movement could help or harm El Paso County

Under one scenario the Pentagon is considering, Fort Carson would lose 8,000 soldiers — and El Paso County will lose an additional 8,000 jobs. In another scenario, the Mountain Post could see a net increase of 3,000 troops, and the county could see an equal rise in jobs.

The Army has committed to a “reduction in force,” known as “RIF” in military circles, reducing the number of active-duty soldiers from last year’s 562,000 to 490,000 by 2020.

The Army plans to achieve its goal through inactivating eight brigade combat teams and realigning other combat and service support units. Alternatively, the goal could be reached through inactivating some units and reorganizing others by adding a battalion and support units.

The move isn’t all that surprising, said Fred Crowley, senior instructor of economics at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and associate director of the Southern Colorado Economic Forum.

“That’s about how much they increased troop levels to fight two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “People have been expecting they would cut back as the wars wind down.”

Fort Carson is one of 21 posts internationally that could see a reduction in soldiers, based on the Army’s goal of inactivating combat brigades. But it’s one of only a handful that could actually see an increase in end-strength by 2020.

According to the environmental assessment report, Fort Carson could gain 3,000 soldiers if a new combat battalion is created.

That means jobs and security for the post.

And Fort Carson could easily be selected, Crowley said. In recent years, the military has spent millions upgrading housing, building a larger Post Exchange facility and constructing new facilities for the combat aviation brigade.

“They’re not going to back away from that investment,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. But that puts Fort Carson in a great spot to gain new missions.”


December 6

Springs could test drones if FAA includes state among six locations

With Jeff Bezos’ announcement that online retailer is developing an unmanned-shipping service to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less, it’s apparent that the world has entered a new era of aviation technology — a world in which Colorado has potential to play a key role.

Earlier this year, a team of aerospace-enthusiastic entities led by the University of Colorado-Boulder submitted a proposal to the Federal Aviation Administration to designate Colorado as one of six states to house test sites for Unmanned Aerial Systems, otherwise known as UAVs or, more popularly, drones.

The FAA application was handled by Colorado UAS, a team comprised of 10 regional economic development agencies, seven universities, five industry associations, two state agencies and more than 100 area companies.

“I would venture to say that most of the aerospace companies in Colorado Springs have systems that would benefit from this move toward UAVs,” said Sean McClung, chairman of the Colorado UAS Board of Directors. “There are significant benefits for all of those companies.”

The FAA’s selection is scheduled to be announced by the close of 2013, little more than three weeks away, and industry experts say Colorado fares well in competing to become what one Washington Post reporter referred to as the “Silicon Valley of Drones.”

By the May 6 submission deadline, the FAA had received 50 applications from 37 states. Now, the number of eligible applicants has been whittled down to 25 applications from 24 states — giving the state a 25 percent chance of snagging one of those six spots.

“We probably have the most flight hours in the country for UAVs than any other state, so I think we are in a very good position to accept an award,” McClung said. “The establishment of a test area is something that gives a stamp of approval from the FAA that says, ‘You can go and do this.’ ”

Of the state’s 14 proposed ranges for testing — 12 air and two ground — three are in the Colorado Springs area: Colorado Springs East Airport, just off Colorado Highway 94 near Ellicott; the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Fort Carson.

A study by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates that Colorado could experience the creation of nearly 1,200 jobs in the first three years of national airspace integration, along with an economic impact of $232 million, 1,760 jobs and $1.4 billion in the decade following.


December 20

Exelis spin-off to create largest public company in Springs

Defense contractor Exelis Inc. announced that it will spin off a segment of its IT Services division to create a Springs-based Mission Services company.

The independence of Exelis Mission Systems — currently part of the company’s Information and Technical Services division located in Colorado Springs — is expected to be complete by summer and then be subject to approval by the board of directors, according to a news release.

Mission Systems currently employs about 7,000 workers in more than 100 locations across 18 countries. The company’s estimated revenue for 2013 is approximately $1.5 billion.

“We are repositioning our businesses to enhance our focus on the long-term growth drivers that will enable us to remain well-positioned in an evolving global market environment,” President and CEO David F. Melcher said in the release. “This spin-off enables both Exelis and Mission Systems to become more agile, better aligned and able to more effectively meet the needs of their customers, both domestically and internationally.”

The split will allow each company to more effectively compete in their respective markets, with the soon-to-be renamed and rebranded Mission Systems working primarily on contracts with the U.S. government.

The release said that the new company will provide facilities management, logistics and network communications services and will focus its “portfolio on higher margin strategic growth platforms,” including critical networks, ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and analytics, electronic warfare and aerostructures.