Alion could bring campus to IYK

Technology solutions company could bring millions in investments, scores of jobs to the region

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Alion could bring campus to IYKA defense contractor made a presentation this week to the Exchange Club of Ridgecrest that outlined a plan that could potentially bring a significant investment in new industry to the Indian Wells Valley by partnering with Inyokern Airport and China Lake.

That vision includes the construction of an international campus with hangars, conference facilities, secure sites, office space, a small gym, cafeteria and other infrastructure. In the long term, that campus could also partner with Cerro Coso Community College to build a training program for journeymen and professionals in technical fields.

Dr. Christopher Amos, senior vice president and general manager of Alion Science and Technology, said that his company approached China Lake last spring when it was looking for possible opportunities for expansion.

Alion provides technical expertise and operational support to the U.S. Department of Defense, civilian government agencies and commercial customers. Given the compatibility of Alion’s mission and the work at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, “We thought this would be a good place to be,” said Amos.

During their first visit, members of the Alion entourage made arrangements to meet with Cameron Bruce, director of business development at NAWCWD. “Since we didn’t have badges, he said. “we could just meet in the lobby since he only had about 10-15 minutes.”

An hour and a half later, Amos said, Bruce was impressed by Alion’s capabilities and wanted to see how it might get involved.

One of the primary challenges Bruce identified in that meeting was that, as a key implementer of the U.S. initiative to collaborate with foreign military allies, China Lake was nearing its capacity to accommodate the growing demand by customers — foreign and domestic.

For years, China Lake has played a pivotal role in ensuring that U.S. forces and allies have the ability to communicate between systems.

“You have probably seen that there is a permanent presence from Australia and the United Kingdom, and occasionally pilots and their support teams come here from other countries as well,” said Amos.

“These foreign military forces come to China Lake to do exercises and test weapons and train on the U.S. systems, but they don’t have enough capacity on the base,” he said. “They are so backed up that they have even had to turn away work.

“That’s not good for the Navy, and it’s not good for China Lake. And at some point, customers who are being turned away will eventually stop asking.”

While the Alion representatives were driving out of town, they saw Inyokern Airport. “We looked around and didn’t see a lot of activity. I said, ‘You know, I wonder if that airport could be used to house some of these foreign nationals. Maybe Alion could help the Navy out by providing the facilities.”

Patti Brady, a consultant for Alion, engaged with senior leadership in the Navy. “Somewhat to my surprise, she got nearly unanimous, perhaps even entirely unanimous, support for the idea,” said Amos.

Armed with that blessing, Alion returned to the area to reach out to China Lake, Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason and several companies that support the mission of the base — and they again found support for the concept.

Questions about safety concerns cropped up during these discussions, “so we have put together a fairly detailed plan of how to go about this.”

The intent of last night’s meeting with the airport board was to address any concerns.

“We want to start a dialog on how to move forward with something that will bring investments and jobs into the community.”

Inyokern Airport currently has a vacant hangar, formerly occupied by a company that outfitted and refurbished UAV equipment, and a set of office buildings, formerly the headquarters of the Royal Air Force (still a frequent visitor to the valley).

Amos said that these facilities could be renovated in the short term to accommodate Alion operations. “Inyokern is only eight miles away, so aircraft could easily fly out of there for test missions at the China Lake ranges.”

He estimated that initial investments could amount to $10 million, with work for 50 employees. Navy officials said that to fill their demand, the Navy would add another 50 jobs.

That does not include potentially hundreds of customers who would be visiting — staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, buying fuel and possibly even setting up a local base of operations.

The advantage to the base, said Amos, is that by housing foreign nationals offsite, China Lake would be free to use that space for domestic operations.

“China Lake is restricted in hangar space, support equipment, office space,” said Amos. “One of the challenges is that in the U.S. military there are colors of money – operations, maintenance, procurement and MILCON (military construction) money — which is hard to come by since almost all MILCON money is used to support BRAC.

“So China Lake is very unlikely to get money in their budget to build new facilities.” Which is why, he said, a private investment may be the best solution.

“If we take people out of those existing buildings, China Lake could do more work for F-35 and all the other research they are obligated to be doing.”

The major benefit to the community would be the additional tax revenue streams generated by compatible non-government industry — which has been a key objective of city officials and other community leaders for decades.

The results of Thursday night’s meeting at Inyokern Airport will be reported on next week.

Pictured: Dr. Christopher Amos (left) speaks with one of his Alion counterparts during his recent talk. -- Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2017-02-10