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Mikulski announces $43 million in funding for more multirole enforcement aircraft

Inside the manufacturing facility of Sierra Nevada Corp. at Hagerstown Regional Airport she said that the money serves to preserve the 'passport of the middle class'

March 26, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski gives the thumbs up while talking about the surveillance airfcraft being modified at Sierra Nevada Corp. on Tuesday. Listening in is Sierra Nevada Corp. President Eren Ozmen.
Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

Standing in front of a newly modified Hawker Beechcraft surveillance plane, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski on Tuesday announced $43 million in federal funding recently approved by Congress devoted to outfitting two additional multirole enforcement aircraft to protect U.S. borders.

Mikulski, an advocate for border patrol and protecting American jobs, told about 100 attendees inside the manufacturing facility of Sierra Nevada Corp. at Hagerstown Regional Airport that the money serves to preserve the “passport of the middle class,” helping to protect about 200 jobs in Maryland, including many of the company’s 500-plus workforce locally.

“As I support immigration reform, I really want a passport to the middle class,” said Mikulski, D-Md. “I want our people to be able to have the educational opportunities and the job opportunities that they can continue to earn that.”

The funds were part of a continuing resolution passed by Congress last week to keep the federal government running through Oct. 1, Mikulski said.

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Sierra Nevada has built five border patrol planes that are used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Mikulski said, with the most recently completed plane to be deployed Monday.

Border control agents could use “another 20 or 30” planes since much of the agency’s fleet has been in use for at least 30 years, Mikulski said.

“That would be able to take the production line well over the next decade,” she said. “... As technology improves, these planes will get better at what they do and the jobs will stay here.”

Tim Owings, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada’s Integrated Mission Systems, said the twin-propeller planes are retrofitted with an extended nose section that is equipped with a camera that can see during day and night. They also have a radar system that hangs below the aircraft to detect low-flying aircraft and boats in the water below.

The planes are operated by two pilots while two to four border agents monitor the surveillance equipment, Owings said.

“Then they are able to determine from the camera and a combination of other things if it’s friend or foe, and how to take action,” he said. “... This is a great day, not just for Hagerstown and Maryland, but also for Customs and Border Protection that they get something that will really allow them to act as a force multiplier and keep patrol agents safe. That’s really what drives us here.”

All five Washington County commissioners attended the ceremony. Commissioner John F. Barr touted Sierra Nevada’s continued commitment to the region.

“It’s a real shot in the arm for Washington County and particularly here at the airport,” he said.

Improving border control continues to be a major part of Mikulski’s platform. She told officials during her announcement that Sierra Nevada planes helped border patrol agents make 2,000 arrests of drug smugglers trying to cross into the U.S. and seized about 800,000 pounds of illegal drugs, according to the most recent data in 2010.

The seizure of street-level cocaine alone amounted to about $1.8 billion, which Mikulski pointed out would be plenty to keep Sierra Nevada producing more defense planes for America’s borders.

“Let’s grab the drug dealers. Let’s grab the money. Let’s make sure we grab the jobs and keep them in Hagerstown,” Mikulski said. “That’s the way I feel about it.”

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