Tucked away off the main airfield and near a remote area of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, researchers will conduct some of the most secretive work of the spying agency in a new 58,000-square-foot building.
The massive $29.5 million National Air and Space Intelligence Center expansion was dedicated Friday, giving analysts a more technically advanced and much larger area to dissect adversaries weapons technology, officials say.
“It’s a very hands-on mission, ” said Col. Sean P. Larkin, NASIC commander, who noted the foreign technology work began at the Army’s airplane engineering department at the old McCook Field in Dayton a century ago in 1917.
“We have a long heritage of doing this for 100 years,” he said. “Although we have great scientists, technicians and engineers whose secret weapon is math and who can fill in missing puzzle pieces using the laws of physics, it’s still incredibly helpful and insightful to have the hands-on access and exploitation of foreign weapon systems. We can learn from those and plow that back into our analysis.”
“If you really want to know what keeps the Air Force competitive, this is a big part of it right here,” said Maj. Gen. James R. Marrs, Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The two-star general spoke to more than 200 people at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday.
“We’re staying ahead of our adversaries as China and Russia look to challenge the United States dominance,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, a House Armed Services Committee member. “This is a facility that allows us to understand what our adversaries are doing (and) ensuring we’re staying ahead.”
NASIC advises the nation’s highest leaders on air, space and cyber threats, including assessments of adversaries ballistic missile capabilities, such as North Korea.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the assessments NASIC generates can make the difference between war and peace,” said Loren B. Thompson, a Virginia-based senior defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, said in an email Friday. “NASIC not only analyzes what weapons an enemy has, but what weapons it is seeking to acquire, when those weapons will become available, and how they might be used.”
The intelligence agency has more than 3,100 employees and a budget of about $430 million.
Seventy employees will relocate into the new Haynes Hall — nearly tripling the size of the current facility which will double lab space — in early 2018, Larkin said. The current facility was meant to house 20 employees, but has three and half times that today.
The new addition will help secure NASIC’s future at Wright-Patterson, particularly as the Pentagon and congressional leaders have in recent weeks urged a new round of base closures and mission re-alignments, some said.
Congressional backing to build the expanded center quickly under an emergency funding provision showed “very strong support” for NASIC, said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs.
“Those opportunities are there, and the outlook is good, but the defense and intelligence worlds are increasingly uncertain,” he said in a telephone interview from Arlington, Va. “I would say that the need for intelligence and the need for the work that NASIC does has never been greater and the work will have to be done and the work is expanding.”
The coalition worked with congressional lawmakers to secure the money, said Jeff Hoagland, DDC president and chief executive officer.
The new building, dubbed Haynes Hall, is named after Foreign Materiels Exploitation test pilot Lt. William V. Haynes, a World War II aviator who died at Freeman Field, Ind., flying a demonstration of a German Focke-Wulf Fw 109D-9 fighter plane in front of aeronautical experts in September 1945, according to NASIC.
Haynes’nephew, Ed Bishop, 68, of Niceville, Fla, traveled to Wright-Patterson to see the building named after the uncle he never met.
“I was just flabbergasted, speechless,” the Air Force veteran said, when he learned it would be named for Haynes. “I was in tears … I thought it was going to be a little building off a hallway. I come to see this, it’s massive.”
The building is next to Watson Hall, named after Maj. Gen. Harold E. Watson, who was in charge of Operation LUSTY in 1945. That mission flew enemy aircraft to Wright Field in Dayton to find the secrets the planes held.
Haynes was among seven Army P-47 aviators, dubbed “Watson’s Whizzers” who flew captured Messerschmitt Me262 fighter jets from Germany to Cherbourg, France at the end of World War II in Europe. The planes were put on an aircraft carrier and shipped to Newark, N.J.
Roy W. Brown, 96, of Chillicothe, is the last surviving member of the group. Standing in NASIC’s new hangar Friday, he recalled piloting the German jet.
“We knew when we went into it that we were getting into something we’d never been in before and once we found it was flying the (German) planes, it was very interesting,” the retired Goodyear engineer said. “It was an easier plane to fly. It was more quiet and more responsive to the controls and it would do whatever you wanted it to do better than a P-47.”