Orbital Sciences Corp. is launching a missile defense program in Chandler that will create 300 jobs and add $400 million to the East Valley economy through the end of this decade.
The company's Launch Systems Group, 3380 S. Price Road, is a major subcontractor on the $4.5 billion Kinetic Energy Interceptor program, which is intended to guard the United States against a nuclear attack.
The Kinetic Energy Interceptor is a fast missile designed to intercept and destroy enemy missiles shortly after they are launched and before it can deploy decoys and other countermeasures that foil missile defenses.
It is the first layer in a three-part defense system that is being pushed by the Bush administration to knock out nuclear missiles in the early, middle and final descent phases of their flight.
Orbital is part of an industrial team headed by Northrop Grumman Corp. and the Raytheon Co. to design and build the Kinetic Energy Interceptor portion of the system.
Orbital's job will be to build the two-stage interceptor booster rocket.
Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson will build the “kill” vehicle that will ride atop the rocket and will stop the enemy missile by slamming into it at high speed.
Raytheon's work will create about 900 positions in Tucson.
Arizona contractors will be employing nearly half of the 3,000 people who will be working on the program nationwide by 2007, said David Montgomery, deputy general manager of the Northrop Grumman's Missile Defense Division.
The contract was awarded to the industrial team in December by the Missile Defense Agency, a part of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Full deployment of the Kinetic Energy Interceptor system will take place in 2012, contingent on future funding of the program by the U.S. Congress.
Strongly backed by President Bush, the system has critics who say it would be useless against low-tech terrorist attacks such as suicide bombers and hijacked airplanes that the U.S. is more likely to face. Proponents say it would block relatively unsophisticated nuclear attacks launched from nations such as North Korea or Iran.
Orbital has already hired about 15 people for its portion of the work, said Richard Fahrner, senior vice president of Orbital's Kinetic Energy Interceptor Boost Vehicle Program. The program's work force is expected to reach 200-250 by the middle of next year and 300 by the end of next year, he said. The salaries for engineers and technicians working on the program will range from $30,000 to $80,000, Fahrner said.
Many of the hires are expected to be local residents, he said, adding that the company has enjoyed success hiring engineers from Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.
The program is expected to provide subcontracts to East Valley machine shops and other local contractors, he said. And local hotels and car rental agencies will benefit from out-of-town partners who will meet periodically with Orbital in Chandler, he said.
The program is an outstanding project for Chandler, city council member-elect Matt Orlando said. “It's good because it will create high-end jobs in engineering and tech support.”
Orbital already has about 350 employers working on interceptor and test rockets for the mid-flight phase of the missile defense system. That program, which will be deployed in Alaska before the end of this year, is designed to destroy enemy missiles that evade the initial Kinetic Energy Interceptor layer.