ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — The U.S. Army celebrated a ribbon cutting for a new research and development aircraft hangar at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Feb. 10.
The U.S. Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, moved its Flight Activity, the CFA, from a 74-year-old WWII hangar into a modern facility.
Elected officials, appointees, former employees and senior leaders from across Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and the Army Science and Technology community were on hand to celebrate the ribbon cutting.
“We must analyze capability gaps and implement solutions faster than our adversaries. This multimillion dollar facility is an Army strategic investment that will significantly enhance CERDEC’s ability to continue key cross-domain aviation research and experimentation in areas that are so essential to the nation’s defense: intelligence, cyber, electronic warfare, communications and mission command,” said CERDEC Director Henry J. Muller.
Managed by the CERDEC Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate, or I2WD, the CFA provides a unique aviation platform sensor development and integration capability to government agencies, academic institutions or industry partners with valid Department of Defense missions, according to Charles V. Maraldo, CFA director.
This includes end-to-end aviation support for emerging airborne electronics systems, quick-reaction capabilities to units, post-production aircraft modifications, and support to programs of record, he explained.
“We support programs of record from early in the product life cycle — by maturing potential new technology — all the way to the Sustainment phase by evaluating and integrating sustainment or pre-planned product improvement upgrades. We also provide independent airborne test platforms that will allow them to assess candidate capabilities in an environment free of corporate influence,” Maraldo said.
The new hangar, which is able to accommodate C-130 sized aircraft, houses the CFA’s fleet of fixed and rotor wing aircraft, including UH-60M Black Hawks, RC-12s and UV-18 Twin Otter.
With more than 100,000 square feet, it features fully climate-controlled high- and low-bay aircraft hangars, and includes an aircraft-component and avionics maintenance shop, administrative facilities, a fixed wing taxiway and a rotor wing landing pad.
“An aircraft by itself is a complex system of electronics, aerodynamic surfaces, and mechanical systems that all must work together. Integrating and testing new communications, EW, Cyber or SIGINT capabilities requires that all of those components continue to work safely together while not degrading the safety of the host platform. This new hangar will allow us to provide aviation integration and experimentation support more efficiently and safely than ever before,” Maraldo said.
“The increased capabilities will enable our staff of engineers, integrators, fabricators and pilots to support all aspects of airborne experimentation under one roof: concept, engineering, design, fabrication, integration, flight testing and analysis,” Maraldo said.
The hangar’s military value “was clear” when it was specifically requested by the Army in a 2013 budget that was slashed by more than $1 billion dollars, noted U.S. Representative Chris Smith of the N.J. Fourth Congressional District, who helped secure funding for the hanger in the Future Years Defense Plan.
“The CERDEC Flight Activity is a vital tenant at the base and for our local community. It is a prime example of a mission that has grown and can continue to grow as a result of a coordinated and concerted effort to highlight the talented workforce and other assets–including this new $50 million investment by the Army–that we have here,” Smith said.
“The work done in this hangar supports aviation research and development that is critical to continue advancing our C4ISR [Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] technologies and the quick-reaction capabilities that ensure our men and women in the field have the tools necessary to successfully complete their mission–and return home safely,” Smith said.
The ceremonial groundbreaking for the hangar took place April 11, 2014, with Rep. Smith, then Third Congressional District Rep. Jon Runyan, members of the Army Corps of Engineers and representatives from the Army’s research and development community.
Almost three years later, the completion of the multi-million dollar facility is a reflection of a commitment between partners, said Col. David Caldwell, Commander of the New York District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Together, we have built a facility to keep our military at the cutting edge, enabling our armed services to continue to successfully perform its mission. It is safe for workers, energy efficient and… [will] save the taxpayers considerable money,” Caldwell said.
“[This new facility] has ensured that we will continue to create opportunities that enhance the operational readiness of our military and warfighter. We at USACE are proud to have had a hand in it,” Caldwell said.
The new hangar will also enhance critical Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst missions, making the Joint Base a unique military asset to the United States Armed Forces, said U.S. Representative Tom MacArthur of the N.J. third Congressional District.
“I have long believed that a strong America is our best hope for a safer world. Today’s evolving global threats have changed the way we view our defense capabilities. It’s our duty to provide the tools our warfighters need to protect the freedom of American citizens. CERDEC will help provide this. We must keep supporting their work because it’s helping Soldiers execute their missions and come home safely,” MacArthur said.
Sitting among the varied topography of the N.J. Pine Barrens and coastal region, the 20-mile-wide Joint Base is accessible to industry and government laboratories on the East Coast and offers the varied topography, radio frequency spectrum and restricted airspace needed for aerial experimentation in Communications, Signals Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and RADAR.
Strategically co-located on the nation’s only tri-service base, CERDEC’s Flight Activity and Ground Activity, or CGA, are leveraging these resources to deploy ground assets within range of aircraft flight tracks to help the Army explore and advance innovative, multi-domain capabilities.
“Our flying laboratories at the Flight Activity and our field laboratories at the Ground Activity complement each other beautifully and are an extension of our engineering environment back at Aberdeen Proving Ground. When interaction is necessary between ground and aerial layers, we can do so without relocating assets from elsewhere in the country,” Muller said.
“They allow us to bring together lab-based and field-based risk reduction, which helps us prove what is in the art of the possible for the Army as it looks to enable capabilities that support multi-domain battle across air, land, sea and cyber,” Muller said.
The CFA and its new hanger are a state-of-the-art capability for the greater DoD science and technology community to leverage when determining what does and, more importantly, does not work, said Gary W. Blohm, CERDEC I2WD director.
“As we develop and assess technologies in labs across CERDEC, we can also bring them into the Flight Activity to understand integration challenges early and upfront. This allows leadership to understand how technologies will work on the platform, how we can best integrate them, and how can we deliver them in an efficient way that will dominate the electromagnetic spectrum, command the operation and enable decisive effects,” he said.
The need to conduct airborne electronic systems experiments dates back to the early days of aviation when Fort Monmouth conducted the first test of air-to-ground communications in 1918. In 1963, that mission moved into the then 20-year-old Hangar 5 at Lakehurst Naval Air Station and remained there until now.
Generations of former Flight Activity employees who worked in Hangar 5 attended the ceremony and traded stories as they reminisced along an exhibit of news clips chronicling the CFA’s history.
These efforts include communications intercept and location, Morse Code interception, radar detection, Stand-Off Target Acquisition, the first glass cockpit Black Hawk, GPS and Foliage Penetrating Radar systems.
From Vietnam and the Cold War to the wars on drugs and terror, the CFA has played a significant role in pioneering airborne communications and sensors, Blohm noted.
“It’s family. When you accomplish things together, it bonds you for a long time. For folks who were building this capability 60 some odd years ago to our current workforce, there have been so many people who have made this happen,” Blohm said.
With the opening of the new hangar, the CERDEC Flight Activity is poised to provide another several decades of support to the Army’s aerial C4ISR needs, Blohm said.
“This is a celebration of a storied past and a firm promise for the future of airborne electronics systems experimentation. If you look back at the history, we’ve been doing relevant work that’s made a difference. If you look at the emerging [concept of operations] for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and electronic warfare, the Flight Activity is more relevant than it’s ever been. We will continue to be at the forefront of airborne electronics systems development while anticipating S&T needs for future conflicts,” Blohm said.