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Lt. Colonel Rob Harper of Fort Bliss, Okla. thanks the employees of Raytheon Missile Systems for their hard work at a ceremony to celebrate the expansion of Raytheon's NAPI (Navajo Agricultural Products Industry) plant on Monday outside the facility. Seated behind Mr. Harper, from right, Navajo Nation Council Delegate Lorenzo Bates, Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly, Vice President of Operations at Raytheon Missile Systems Rick Nelson, Vice President of the Raytheon's combat product line James Riley, and Joe Trujillo of U.S. Senator Pete Domenici's office, clap to honor the Raytheon workers in the audience.
UPPER FRUITLAND — With military requests expected to increase tenfold by the end of the year, Raytheon Missile Systems is almost doubling its workforce and manufacturing space on the Navajo Nation.

Approved by the Navajo Nation Council in February, the $6.8 million, 38,000-square-foot expansion of Raytheon's Navajo Agricultural Products Industry location will create about 80 new jobs and $5 million in wages. It also will increase production of one of the military's most wanted missiles — the Excalibur.

"It's a revolutionary technology because it's a guided projectile," James Riley, vice president of Raytheon's land combat line, told an audience of state and Navajo Nation dignitaries and Raytheon employees Monday. "It's fired out of a cannon 40 kilometers, and it lands within five meters of the target every time. You can shoot artillery 40 kilometers and hit a single target without collateral effects, without killing innocent civilians or damaging infrastructure."

The U.S. Army has shot about 30 Excalibur missiles in Iraq, Riley said, and it's asking for more. Although the facility expansion won't be complete until November, Raytheon already is hiring and has plans to produce 150 Excalibur missiles per month by December.

"It's a steep curve we're on, but we've elected to accelerate that production right here at NAPI," Riley said. "By doing so, we will reduce the limitations currently placed on our soldiers in Iraq, so they can shoot (the Excalibur) when it's needed, not when it's available.


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Jointly funded by Raytheon, the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico's Tribal Infrastructure Fund, the expanded facility is exactly what the Nation needs, said Navajo Vice President Ben Shelly. The facility adheres to a Navajo preference hiring policy and is expected to maintain its 90-percent Navajo workforce.

Raytheon provides the highest-paying manufacturing jobs on the reservation, and the company sets the example for what Nation officials hope becomes a trend among other businesses eying the Nation, Shelly said.

"Training is all it takes for us to learn skilled labor," he said. "We have the workforce to do the job here ... as a partnership, we can make things happen."

Because the facility is located on tribal land, the Nation leases the property to Raytheon, drawing an additional $135,000 per year. But the relationship is mutually beneficial, said Fred Mondragon, cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Economic Development Department.

"It's not just the square feet," Mondragon said. "It's not just the building, but the increased production capability for our nation's defense, plus high-paying jobs and tax revenues for the state. This will pay big dividends to all involved."

When construction is complete, the 68,000-square-foot facility located about five miles south of Farmington will include classrooms, a conference room and administrative offices. The expansion will add about 15,000 square feet of production space, where workers will assemble parts for 12 missiles and munitions programs used by the U.S. military.

Alysa Landry:

alandry@daily-times.com