Defense bill could lead to Raytheon hiring

The National Defense Authorization Act would expand the budget for Raytheon to manufacture missiles in 2017.

Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star 2013

John McCain has said he expects Raytheon to make hundreds of new hires.

Senator John McCain is bullish on the future of the city’s largest private employer, telling reporters before privately meeting with Raytheon Missile Systems executives on Tuesday that he expects them to hire hundreds of more employees.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain said the National Defense Authorization Act in its current form “virtually doubles” the number of missiles built by Raytheon in Tucson.

The NDAA, which currently is headed for a vote on the Senate floor next week, would nearly double the budget for Raytheon to manufacture 96 additional Tomahawk missiles for a total of 196 missiles in fiscal 2017. It would also pay for the production of 439 Sidewinder missiles and 163 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs), also made by Raytheon in Tucson.

Additionally, the current version of the NDAA funds the Missile Defense Agency’s request to procure 35 Standard Missile-3 Block IB ballistic-missile interceptors and also funds the Navy’s request for 125 SM-6 missiles, both of which are engineered and developed in Arizona.

Raytheon officials, McCain said during a campaign stop on Tuesday morning, told him privately they would need to hire more workers to meet the increased demand.

“They didn’t say the exact number,” McCain said, but he earlier estimated the number would be several hundred.

A spokesman for the missile contractor had no immediate comment on McCain’s statement.

Raytheon is Southern Arizona’s largest private employer, with 9,600 local employees, according to the Star 200 survey. But the company’s reported workforce has been flat the past three years.

In 2014, the Pentagon had proposed halting Tomahawk orders, citing a large inventory of the weapons. But Raytheon said the production lines would be costly to restart, McCain led a push to keep up minimum production, and the U.S. fired nearly 50 Tomahawks at the outset of action against Islamic State militants in September 2014.

A long-term procurement plan the Pentagon released in February calls for buying up to 4,000 Tomahawks over the next five years while funding upgrades, including the ability to hit moving targets.

Also included in the NDAA are provisions to keep the A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack jet, a mainstay at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, flying for years to come.

McCain and Rep. Martha McSally, a Tucson Republican, have twice blocked the Air Force’s plan to retire about 300 remaining A-10s — including more than 80 in three squadrons at D-M — by 2019. The Air Force has moved the retirement date to 2022, though some cuts could start in 2018.

The Defense Authorization Act also fully funds the EC-130H Compass Call electronic attack airplanes stationed at D-M.

Davis-Monthan supporters also worry that mothballing the A-10 would remove a major mission from D-M and make it more vulnerable to future closure. D-M pumped an estimated $991 million into the local economy in fiscal 2015, according to a base report.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@tucson.com or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson