The Patuxent River Naval Air Station could receive more than $10 million in federal funding for projects such as renovating work space for an anti-submarine aircraft and putting weapons maintenance manuals on the Internet, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) said Monday during a visit to the St. Mary's County base.
The bulk of the funding, part of a 2006 military construction bill not yet finalized in Congress, is $5.8 million to renovate the hangar space for what is known as the Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft, a surveillance and anti-submarine plane. The money would be used to renovate space for aircraft testing and make room for more than 300 new engineering workers to support an airplane that will "improve our long-range maritime patrol," Mikulski said.
Although there is much focus in military circles on the improvised combat techniques of insurgents and terrorists, Mikulski said it is important to remember that there are still nations that could pose "predatory threats" against the United States in the form of a submarine attack.
"It's very important," Mikulski said of the aircraft that is to be developed by Boeing and replace the P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft. "We've got to continually modernize ourselves."
A defense appropriations bill also calls for $3 million to create an online resource for information about repairing and maintaining weapons and $2 million for computer technology to integrate the work done in St. Mary's County with testing in the fleet, Mikulski said.
Todd Morgan, president of the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance, said that the three projects were on the list of priorities proposed by his organization and that securing the funding would be "good momentum builders" for the base. The St. Mary's base, along with the nearby Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head, survived this year's military base closure process and avoided any large-scale job cuts. Those recommendations were expected to become law this week.
"We feel pretty good about what's happening down here," Morgan said. "Technology is going to be where your future is, and you have to follow that path.
Mikulski's visit was the third leg of what she is calling her "military innovation tour," planned for more than a dozen military sites. The tour began last month at the Volvo powertrain factory in Hagerstown, where she announced $3.5 million in federal funding to develop a heavy-duty hybrid vehicle for the Air Force. The vehicle would combine an electric motor with a diesel engine. The second stop was at Lockheed Martin in Baltimore to highlight upgrades to a Navy surface missile launcher.
Mikulski toured the Patuxent River Naval Air Station and met with members of the Patuxent Partnership, a nonprofit economic development group that promotes the technology industry in Southern Maryland. Members of the partnership are interested in creating an aerospace technology center to bring together ideas from the private sector, government and academia, said Don McErlean, the head of the Center for Strategic Analysis, a division of the Patuxent Partnership.
McErlean said Mikulski invited the Patuxent Partnership to meet with her staff members for further discussions of the proposed center.
"The senator was very interested in us working with her . . . and advancing the national cause of aerospace technology," he said.