HUNTSVILLE, ALA — In a one-story gray building with a bright red pin striping about two-thirds of the way up its side, a nondescript 70,000 square-foot factory sits behind three 21-foot tall missiles.
Tucked inside the fences of the Redstone Arsenal — a sprawling Army base just minutes from downtown Huntsville — is where defense giant Raytheon assembles ship-launched missile interceptors, although you would not know it from the lack of signage.
In fact, the only sign outside of this sleepy facility is at the entrance to the parking lot where visitors are told to back vehicles into spaces so that in an emergency, they could make a speedy escape.
But what the building lacks on its exterior it makes up for inside where technicians wearing white lab coats combine the individual sections of each missile.
Robots move the missiles along an assembly line right up to the point where they are slide into a steel containers and loaded loaded onto trucks destined for Navy bases. Throughout the process, humans are not required to carry the missiles between assembly stations, drastically lowering the possibility of an accident during production, Raytheon executives say.
The SM-3 is an interceptor designed to shoot down ballistic missiles. The SM-6 is designed to shoot down aircraft and cruise missiles and attack ships and land-based targets. Both missiles are deployed on US Navy ships and are assembled here.
During a visit to the plant last week, one of those robots transferred a missile from its final assembly station into its case and then moved it to the loading dock for shipment.
About 50 employees at Raytheon’s Alabama factory — which opened in 2012 and was specifically built for SM-3 and SM-6 assembly — built between 12 and 14 missiles per month. This location, which has room for expansion, will assemble the land-based SM-3 interceptors that will be deployed to Romania as part of the Obama administration’s “Phased Adaptive Approach” for missile defense in Europe.
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