Southern Maryland military bases moved closer this week to receiving $40 million in federal funding for projects. They include an explosives development program at the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head in Charles County and an upgrade of the air combat test center at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County.
The funding, which came after a request by Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), is part of the fiscal 2006 defense appropriations bill passed by the House. The Senate has not passed an appropriations bill, and any differences would be negotiated in a conference committee.
Charles County commissioners President Wayne Cooper (D-At Large) called the $4 million that would be allotted to an energetics partnership "the jump-start we need to get moving'' on a program that could work with an explosives research center planned for a site near the Maryland Airport in western Charles.
He applauded Hoyer's efforts but said he hopes the Senate will boost the amount to $10 million.
The money would support a new partnership between the county, the Center for Energetic Concepts Development at the University of Maryland, the College of Southern Maryland and the Naval Surface Warfare Center.
County officials hope to have the center built within two years. But the project has been slowed because a state board has yet to approve the transfer of land in Pomonkey that was promised to the county in 1998. Officials with the governor's office and the Board of Public Works are being cautious because of a new law that requires more oversight of the transfer and sale of preservation land.
Paul Schurick, director of communications for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), said he does not expect the land swap to come before the Board of Public Works at its meeting next month because the new law requires that it first be presented to the legislature's policy committee.
He called the rush to approve the deal "laughable hypocrisy.''
"A year ago they were criticizing the governor for a land transaction in St. Mary's County.'' The Democrats, he said, "came back and passed this law."
He said, "We are simply doing exactly what they asked.''
In St. Mary's, the funding in the House bill would go to nine projects, according to Hoyer's office. Among them is a $3 million upgrade of the Air Combat Environment Test and Evaluation Facility (ACETEF). Pax River officials declined to discuss in detail how the money would be spent. But base spokesman James Darcy said tests at the center use "high-fidelity simulation" of combat conditions to develop aircraft systems, not to train pilots.
"There are flight simulators . . . aircraft hanging in isolation chambers that are blasted with signals, enemy radars . . . to make sure that everything is working in combination," he said. "For the wars of the future, a lot of the battle is going to be won on the information management front. So ACETEF is all about creating a virtual world to test and exercise these systems."
An additional $3 million would go to support the Human Systems Design Support Tool. The program works on "anything that has to do with the human-aircraft interface," Darcy said. Projects have included developing clothing for pilots, eyewear that protects against enemy lasers and helmets that allow pilots to aim missiles simply by looking in a certain direction.