It’s the military version of the Amazon headquarters sweepstakes. Five city finalists are vying to land the Pentagon’s Army Futures Command, a newly launched operational arm designed to modernize the Army while developing cutting-edge technologies.
With a decision expected within the next month, the last-ditch battle among the five potential host cities — Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Raleigh, and Austin — once again shines a light on the economic clout the Defense Department wields, and how its decisions can mean big money or big disappointment for the contenders.
The winning site will reap the benefits of a state-of-the-art military facility and an influx of high-tech spinoff jobs, and will quickly become the epicenter of a groundbreaking research partnership between the public and private sectors.
Top-ranking Pentagon officials have visited each of the cities over the past several weeks. They say they are encouraging competition and urging regional economic leaders to put their best foot forward.
“We’ve been, for over six months, looking at where the innovation centers in the U.S. are. We’ve gone through a very deliberative process — in some respects, similar to what you’ve read about in the newspapers with the way Amazon went through their process,” Maj. Gen. William Hix, deputy director of the Army Futures Command Task Force, told the Defense One tech conference in Washington this week.
“We expect that announcement to be made soon,” he said.
Pentagon officials told The Washington Times on Wednesday that a final decision is expected sometime in mid- to late July. An announcement initially was penciled in for the end of June, but Defense Department leaders are taking extra time to evaluate their options.
Once up and running, the Army Futures Command will represent the most sweeping Army reorganization effort since the 1970s. Officials say that at its core, the command will be tasked with imagining threats the U.S. could face and taking steps to prepare for them.
“It’s looking at pulling the Army into the future. How do you defend tomorrow today? You can’t win tomorrow’s wars with the last war’s tactics, techniques, procedures, equipment,” said Army Col. Patrick Seiber, spokesman for the Futures Command Task Force.
Enemies “are watching,” he said. “They watch the playbook and then they adjust. We’ve got to be able to keep an eye on the future so we’re not consumed by the present.”
‘Best and brightest’
In evaluating each city, Col. Seiber said, the Army is examining which location offers the most qualified workforce and the most vibrant “atmosphere of innovation.” He said the command will “partner with the best and brightest of industry, academia and innovation” to develop programs, tactics, weapons and other tools that the Army needs for future conflicts.
The Army intends to find an existing facility in the winning city and lease the space, officials said, and may set up smaller satellite offices in the area.
Proximity to top-notch universities is among the top criteria Pentagon officials are examining. In that respect, each of the five finalists has a compelling case to make.
In Raleigh, which is also in the running for a massive new Amazon facility, the pitch centers on the famed Research Triangle, the area bounded by North Carolina State, Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Powerful lawmakers from both red and blue states also are weighing in as they try to convince the Defense Department that their respective city is the best choice.
“The Austin mega-region is one of the fastest growing communities in the United States,” Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas wrote in a letter urging the Pentagon to pick their state’s capital city.
“Its quality of life is virtually without equal, and it has top-tier academic institutions like the University of Texas, as well as a world-class technology corridor — nicknamed ‘Silicon Hills’ — that is a mecca for innovative startups and technology leaders,” they said.
Pennsylvanians make a similar argument.
“With a skilled workforce, world-class facilities, a thriving technological and industrial base, and a number of the world’s leading universities, there is no doubt that Philadelphia is an ideal location for this headquarters,” Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, said recently.
Boston also is basing its pitch on the number of leading universities in the region, such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“We are confident that Boston can meet the Army’s requirements, and we believe that placing the Futures Command in New England will show the world that the Army is serious about innovation and doing business in a new way,” a group of New England senators wrote in a recent letter.
While the new facility will house a relatively small full-time workforce — reportedly about 500 people, mostly military personnel in addition to some civilian workers — the command is expected to make the host city a magnet for researchers and companies hoping to land lucrative Pentagon contracts.
More broadly, the city will forever be linked to the Army’s 21st-century strategy to defend the nation.
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