By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
The importance of the region’s defense industry — especially unmanned aerial systems — was emphasized Wednesday when Congressman Duncan D. Hunter spoke to hundreds of Northrop Grumman employees in 4S Ranch.
The company, whose local facilities include buildings in the Rancho Bernardo and 4S Ranch business parks, announced this month it is consolidating operations among its California, New York and Florida locations. The plan includes bringing 300 positions to its Rancho Bernardo facility, renamed the Unmanned Systems Center of Excellence. The yearlong consolidation — one of five — is to support the company’s aerospace systems sector’s manned aircraft, unmanned systems and electronic attack businesses.
After a tour, Hunter recounted to hundreds of Northrop Grumman’s 2,220 local employees how during his second deployment to Iraq in 2004, the former Marine made one of the first calls for artillery fire based on what was seen on a computer screen via an unmanned aerial vehicle.
“It was a big step forward, used by guys on the ground,” Hunter said. “It saved lives on the ground and killed bad people.”
When deployed to Afghanistan in 2007, Hunter said he saw a tremendous step forward in technology. He recalled using Northrop Grumman platforms “almost every other day” when identifying enemy targets.
“Your job helps America fight wars,” he said, calling the innovations over the three-year span “a big step.”
He added, “we need to celebrate (this) as a nation, that we’re far ahead of every other nation in the world.”
Hunter said while the “man on the ground” might not truly understand what Northrop Grumman and companies like it create, they are appreciative, as is the Department of Defense.
As for the sequester’s negative impacts, Hunter said the House and Senate recently took steps to ensure this type of defense spending is not affected, which has a direct impact on the San Diego economy. Prior to sequester, he said $500 billion was cut from the defense budget. With sequester, another $50 billion is eliminated annually for the next 10 years. However, the president signed legislation Congress passed last week that gives the military leeway with allocations, which will help the United States maintain its technological edge.
“We do not live in a vacuum,” Hunter said. “Our enemies are upping their technology. If we slow down they will catch up and then we will have to work our tails off. ... It is cheaper ... to maintain our edge.”
Hunter said as part of a UAV caucus he is trying to educate fellow Congress members on the importance of supporting this aspect of the defense industry. Though only in his second two-year term, Hunter said he has senior status to 40 percent of his colleagues.
He praised Northrop Grumman’s commitment to the San Diego region, which shows the financial importance of the defense industry compared to other growing industries such as biotech. In addition, he said San Diego has an advantage over other places due to the close proximity of the industry to military personnel testing the technology.
Hunter said it is the State Department — not Congress — that must to be convinced of the need for Northrop Grumman and its counterparts to sell defense technology to America’s allies. Because of the increasing amount of time UAVs can stay in the air, the department categorizes them as missiles, which leads to export limitations.
“We’re trying to urge the State Department to updates its rules to accommodate the new technology you are producing,” he said, adding government is about 10 years behind the private sector.
He said Congress needs to seriously look at civilian use of UAVs and privacy issues “before it’s too late,” adding while there are beneficial uses when it comes to fighting wildfires and assisting police, “we need to make sure that we talk and think about this and Americans get a say.”
Jim Zortman, sector vice president of global logistics and operational support and the center’s site manager, said Hunter’s visit was important for multiple reasons. This includes employees hearing first-hand how their work is crucial to military personnel overseas and it helps congressional members like Hunter become better informed about what the defense industry is developing.
This video was provided by Northrop Grumman Corporation.