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In itself, the Department of Defense decision to infuse $265 million for research-facility upgrades at MIT’s Lincoln Labs is cause to celebrate.
By all accounts, it’s long overdue, since an independent study in 2008 found the facilities “structurally obsolete.”
However, it’s where these facilities are located– predominantly Bedford’s Hanscom Air Force Base — that’s the most significant part of the DOD’s announcement.
Over the past several years, Hanscom’s defense posture had eroded to the point that its very existence was in jeopardy.
In 2011, the U.S. Air Force shifted its 3-star command general from Bedford’s Hanscom Air Force Base to Wright Patterson Air Base in Dayton, Ohio, a cost-cutting move that hinted at a potentially diminished future role for Hanscom.
And in 2017, the federal government’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) again will decide which additional U.S. military installations should close.
Despite an Air Force lieutenant general’s assurances to state leaders in August that Hanscom wasn’t on the chopping block for the time being, that caveat couldn’t have been reassuring.
Obviously, closing Hanscom would be devastating blow to the state’s economy.
In Massachusetts, it’s estimated the six existing military bases and research centers account for a total economic impact of $14.2 billion annually and 46,500 jobs. Hanscom accounts for a significant portion of that impact, since scores of local companies contract with Hanscom and Lincoln Labs to perform key research and development functions, which ensures our defense and weapons capabilities remain second to none.
Obviously, our congressional delegation and state officials have been working diligently to highlight Hanscom’s essential contributions to a 21st-century military.
And thanks to the efforts of 3rd District Congresswoman Niki Tsongas — and more recently first-term 6th District U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton — the Pentagon’s top brass apparently now more fully appreciate Hanscom’s unique intellectual arsenal, bolstered by the nearby brain power of some of our nation’s most prestigious universities.
It’s to their credit that Tsongas, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, and Moulton, a highly decorated Iraq war veteran whose district encompasses Hanscom, drove home Hanscom’s value.
So we take that $265 million DOD commitment as a sign that Hanscom will be a key military asset and economic engine for the forseeable future.