ASU eyes public-private plan for Air Force lab - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

ASU eyes public-private plan for Air Force lab

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Posted: Thursday, November 25, 2010 1:00 pm | Updated: 3:00 pm, Fri Aug 12, 2011.

The interior of Building 561 is wrapped in copper sheathing that can block the most powerful transmissions of communications devices.

It's the most secure facility in what was formerly known as the Air Force Research Lab, a 6.5-acre complex of 10 buildings at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in southeast Mesa.

Now, the Arizona Republic says officials from Arizona State University and a private technology firm are working to take the lab from military to civilian control.

ASU wants to join Alion Science and Technology, an employee-owned corporation based in Alexandria, Va., in converting the lab into a regional hub for science and research for defense and commercial applications.

Alion already has top security clearances for its research work with the government and could move one of its projects to the Air Force Research Lab, under the ASU scenario, which has emerged as the leading option for civilian conversion.

Mesa would be the governing civilian authority for the lab and is developing a transition plan that must be in place before the Air Force begins relocating to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio in March.

Alion hopes to retain as many members as possible of the lab's current team of 200 engineers and scientists.

The Republic says the secure environment of the building must be sustained through the transition to qualify for a variety of defense and non-military research contracts and grants.

The decision to close the lab came in 2005 in a round of military base closings and consolidations, and Mesa was chosen to oversee the lab's disposition.

Before 1993, the lab was under the control of the airport's predecessor, Williams Air Force Base, where pilots trained for more than 50 years.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said an agreement with Alion and ASU would jump-start short-term plans for the lab as a longer range strategy is completed for its operations over the next several decades.

Over the long term, ASU wants to bring in other universities and private industry "for robust and broad-based research products that can support the defense industry generally," said Todd Hardy, ASU's associate vice president for economic affairs.

The lab could also work with the fledgling Arizona Aerospace Institute to help turn research concepts into manufacturing opportunities.

The university's intentions for the lab also include a connection with ASU's Security & Defense Systems Initiative, an institute that aims to find solutions for national defense, homeland security, counterterrorism and cyberwarfare challenges, Hardy said.

The lab is the only major federal research lab in the Phoenix metropolitan area. One of its primary missions has been to study human interactions with military technology.

Mesa is keenly interested in the lab's potential $100 million annual economic impact. The city is completing a reuse plan under federal-government requirements, and interim lease arrangements are expected in February.

Mesa Economic Development Director Bill Jabjiniak said the end result is likely to include a partnership of education and research components with jobs in various disciplines of aerospace engineering and technology.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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