Patuxent welcomes new naval research center

March 05, 1992|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,Staff Writer

LEXINGTON PARK -- The Navy's five aircraft research groups officially closed their separate shops yesterday and reopened under one wing at the Patuxent Naval Air Station here, demonstrating that defense remains a growth industry in Southern Maryland despite a recession and the end of the Cold War.

The move, part of the Defense Department's overall base closing effort, should bring nearly 2,000 new high-tech jobs into St. Mary's County while reducing the Navy's overall work force by about 1,400, Rear Adm. George H. Strohsal Jr. said.

Initially, the Naval Air Development Center will move its Research and Development Center from Warminster, Pa., over the next four years, bringing in most of those new jobs.

By the end of the decade, business operations at Navy air centers in Trenton and Lakehurst, N.J., and Indianapolis will be consolidated here, leaving only some research and development operations at those sites, said Admiral Strohsal, commander of the Naval Air Warfare Center.

The influx of scientific and technical talent, the largest since the Naval Air Test Center opened here 50 years ago, means a significant economic "upswing" for St. Mary's County, according to Elliott "Sonny" Burch, owner of an oil company here and chairman of the county's economic development commission.

"We think [the influx of people] will create even more jobs than the ones the Navy will bring in. There will be defense contractors and construction work, too," he said.

The researchers, for example, will need a new $10.7 million materials lab for starters, with an additional $115 million in renovation work and new construction through September 1995, Navy officials estimate.

But the boom may also strain the county's schools, roads and other infrastructure.

"We've started planning for that in our schools. And we've sent questionnaires to Warminster to get some idea of how many of them will come down here with the jobs," Mr. Burch said.

At precisely 1:30 p.m. yesterday, trumpeters from the Navy Band sounded "attention" to start the ceremony.

One by one, commanders of the various groups marched down a red-carpeted aisle of artillery shells, holding their salutes as ship's bells sounded and as the master of ceremonies announced, "Commander, Naval Air Development Center, arriving! Commander, Naval Air Engineering Center, arriving!"

When Vice Admiral William C. Bowes arrived, the band sounded three "Ruffles and Flourishes" and struck up "The Admiral's Walk" in honor of the Navy's chief pilot.

"This reorganization is one of the most important undertakings in Naval aviation history," the commander of Naval Air Systems told the crowd of nearly 1,000.

The Navy is making "fundamental changes in the way we do business" to meet the changes brought on by the end of the Cold War, he said.

"And the change is going to be difficult."

But the service's aircraft division must "maintain our technical expertise" despite reductions in force and the defense budget, Admiral Strohsal added.

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