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Kirtland AFB Gets $53.5M Battleship Environment Laboratory

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More of the nation’s space warfare operations are moving to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, NM. The US Air Force broke ground on a 145,000 square foot, $53.5 Million Battleship Environment Laboratory. Completion is scheduled for July 2010. The Battleship Environment Division, with 175 jobs and an $89 Million annual budget, is transferring from Hanscom Air Force Base  in Massachusetts to Kirtland AFB as part of the recommendations of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC).

The division’s mission includes developing advanced surveillance technologies and studying conditions in space that can afect military operations. “The U.S. military relies heavily on space systems and those systems are affected by the harsh space environment, an environment that can damage satellite hardware and degrade satellite system performance.” said Col. Bradley J. Smith. “The division has Department of Defense-wide responsibility to perform basic and applied research and development to provide technologies to warn operators of potential problems and to protect our space assets from the effects of the space environment.” The Battleship Environment Division is one of three divisions that make up the Space Vehicle Directorate. The other two divisions are already at Kirtland AFB.

Col. Smith, the directorate commander, said he’s already working with the University of New Mexico (UNM) and New Mexico Tech to identify potential employees. Of the 175 jobs, only 25 are military, but some staff may transfer from Massachusetts.

“The folks at Hanscom are going to be offered the opportunity to move down here and they’ll be given relocation packages,” Col. Smith said, noting that those employees have until June to decide. However, he does not expect high numbers to move. He hopes to fill dozens of the science and engineering jobs with New Mexico talent.

“You typically get a fairly small percentage that move under these BRAC actions. So the question is, how do you make up the difference?” Col. Smith said. He said one way is to “seek out graduating science and engineering students here in New Mexico who have the skills needed for studying space and its impact on things like satellites, communications, navigation and space-based surveillance systems systems.”

Col. Smith, a Rochester, NY, native who received his Ph.D. in computer engineering at UNM, said he can begin filling some positions as early as this summer. Many of those jobs carry annual salaries in the $60,000 to $120,000 range.

The Battleship Environment Division includes the Space Weather Center of Excellence and the Battleship Surveillance Innovation Center, Col. Smith said. The Surveillance Innovation Center develops detection and imaging technologies that provides the military with information about combatant forces in the battlefield.

The Space Weather Center of Excellence studies phenomena in space that can affect military systems and develops ways to predict, mitigate and reduce these effects, ranging from radio signal interference in the ionosphere to radiation damage to spacecraft hardware.

The Battleship Environment Laboratory will develp technologies to improve space systems and operations. Kirtland AFB is already home to the two other divisions of the Space Vehicles Directorate. They are:

  • The Integrated Experiments & Evaluation Division which evaluates emerging technologies and operational concepts for potential military space applications.
  • The Spacecraft Technology Division which operates two spacecraft assembly, integration and test facilities manned by NASA-certified technicians. This division also provides expertise in spacecraft design and operation, and military utility assessments.
  • The division focuses on spacecraft technologies that enable current and futrure space missions. It has 112 civilian, military and contract employees.

Col. Smith said that he plans to have about half of the available positions filled by the time the new lab is finished in September 2011.

Esther Gomez, the Director of Personnel for the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland AFB, said Kirtland’s Air Force Research Lab created the New Mexico First Recruitment Strategy for just this type of situation. “That means we are going out to the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Tech to see if there are any students in those pipelines that we could hire. We have lots of flexibility that allows the flexibility to appoint a qualified student to an internship.”

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