Gates to MC-12 Workers: Your Work is Saving Troops’ Lives
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
GREENVILLE , Texas, Aug. 31, 2009 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates gave a pep talk today to employees outfitting the MC-12 Liberty aircraft for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, telling them their work is saving lives on the battlefield.
Gates visited the L3 Communications plant here, getting briefed about progress,on “Project Liberty.” The program outfits a commercial turboprop aircraft with high-tech gear that provides real-time, full-motion video and signals intelligence to military commanders.
After observing work under way on four additional MC-12s today, all bound for Afghanistan, Gates told factory employees their work is paying off in a big way.
“You all have the opportunity to work on one of the few projects where your efforts have a direct and immediate impact on men and women fighting on the front lines,” he said. “With every plane that you complete, you are saving American lives and giving our troops the tools they need to accomplish their mission and come home safely.”
A worker briefs Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on the MC-12 Liberty aircraft during a tour of the production facility in Greenville, Texas, Aug. 31, 2009. The MC-12 is a medium-altitude manned special-mission turboprop aircraft designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance which will be deployed in theatre in support of coalition and joint ground forces. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“Your work already has had an impact in Iraq ,” Gates told the workers. Six MC-12s deployed there have flown 302 combat missions since the first combat mission, in mid-June, Bob Spivey, L3-Com’s vice present of special projects, reported.
Another 24 MC-12s currently contracted for are bound for Afghanistan .
“Within the next few months, I hope that planes sitting right here – the first second-generation MC-12 scheduled for deployment – will be flying combat missions in Afghanistan, giving our troops a crucial asset as they engage a committed and deadly enemy in a new phase of that war,” Gates told the workers.
Gates has championed getting more ISR assets to better support troops battling an enemy who hides among the population and uses roadside bombs rather than engaging in a direct fight.
“Platforms like the MC-12, though, give America distinct counter to their efforts, an unmatched advantage,” he said. “They give our troops an eye in the sky. They help us disrupt and hunt down our enemies, often before they strike, saving the lives of American troops while sparing innocent civilians.”
Gates praised “an unprecedented fusion of intelligence and operations on the ground in recent years.” It’s driven, he said, by technological advances, as well as creativity and flexibility among those in uniform as well as industrial partners.
“Your work proves what industry and the military can accomplish together,” he said.
Turning out an MC-12 is tedious, detailed work that involves installing 41,000 individual parts installed into a space only slightly larger than a Volkswagon. Workers pull around-the-clock shifts, taking 22,000 hours of labor to complete each aircraft. “We’re trying to pump these out as fast as we can,” Spivey said.
“We understand the urgency, and our people are working this program really hard, 24 hours,” echoed Air Force Lt. Col. Kevin Buddelmeyer, commander of the 645th Aeronautical Systems Squadron that’s assigned to the program.
“This program is a big priority,” he said. “And it’s doing some wonderful things in theater.”
Gates said the MC-12 program offers a reminder that new combat platforms can be developed, built and deployed quickly. “And the best solution isn’t always the fanciest or the most expensive,” he said.
He closed by praising the work under way and urging workers to push themselves to turn out MC-12s even faster.
“Each day earlier one of these planes arrives downrange may well be the day that a soldier’s life is saved. So I ask you to sustain your effort and to keep pursuing ways to improve this program,” he said.
“Your job is critical,” he said. “We are counting on you. Most importantly, the troops who are putting their lives on the line also are counting on you.”
Philip Johnson, a quality manager for the program, called Gates’ visit an inspiration to him and his coworkers. “It really brings home the sense of what we do here, and how it supports our country and our fighters and troops on the ground,” he said.