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The Shreveport Times June 10, 2007

Planners hang hopes on Barksdale's cyber future

By John Andrew Prime

Woodlands just east of Bossier Parish Community College are a field of dreams for Bossier Parish and city planners.

The former Alden Plantation is where they hope to build a 58-acre cyber innovation center to complement Air Force Cyber Command, just formed at Barksdale Air Force Base. Using up to $50 million from Bossier City and Bossier Parish and $50 million from Louisiana, the center would be an enticement to the Air Force to locate a potential new major command headed by a four-star general here.

Planners also estimate as many as 10,000 civilian contractor jobs, ranging from programmers and engineers to manufacturers and training, could also result, directly and indirectly.

"It's just too important not to go after it full bore, with nothing but achieving the goal in sight," said former Bossier City Mayor Don Jones, now a force in Barksdale Forward and the 8th Air Force Consultation Committee. "Nothing else is acceptable. This is too big a deal to miss. We need to get this."

The Air Force is expected to announce the permanent site of the new major command later this year.

The city and parish have a buy-sell agreement on the 58 acres, at a cost of just less than $4.3 million, as the site for the innovation center, Bossier City attorney Jimmy Hall said.

Boosters base the 10,000-job number on community industrial development after new high-tech missions began at Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California and at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala. The jobs, studies show, pay well, too,

But even if the jobs reach a fraction of that number, getting that cyber mission here will mean success, Hall said.

"It will provide that new mission for Barksdale, a mission that will not go away. That is priceless."

Prevent network attacks, more

Much of the work that will be done by Air Force Cyber Command and the potential new major command is described in broad brush strokes that preserve secrecy; it is a battleground still being defined.

The task will be to prevent attacks on the electronic and cyber networks that control and link military, industrial and other operations, and to plan for offensive operations on the same turf. It is now under the command of 8th Air Force head Lt. Gen. Robert J. Elder Jr.

He enthusiastically endorses the local efforts on the innovation center. "The civilian community asked how they could help. We suggested that we needed an innovation center that made it easy for us to collaborate with academia, research institutions, and industry.

"The community took it from there — the innovation incubator was their idea. The Cyberspace Innovation Center is a community initiative."

Sensitive operations and command functions will remain on base, but some personnel from the military commands could work out of the innovation center, Elder said. "We intend to become a partner in the venture."

Vision for innovation center

The local $50 million for the civilian center — two-thirds from Bossier City and one-third from Bossier Parish — would come from bonds that will be paid using current revenue streams, Hall said.

The state has been asked to match that with $50 million, available from the $400 million that had been reserved in a failed bid to lure a German steel mill to Louisiana.

Parish Administrator Bill Altimus and Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker spoke with Gov. Kathleen Blanco last week while in Baton Rouge to lobby for Interstate 49 and asked her to commit on the state's $50 million stake.

"She said she's going to do all she can to assist in this project," Altimus said.

The 58 acres come from the old Alden Plantation, part of which was used for the new Bossier Parish Community College campus. According to the buy-sell agreement, the landowners are JPIL Partnership, Belmore Bridgford, the Nipissing Trust, John Hendrick III, Bobbie Cates Hicks, the Hicks Marital Trust, Katherine Sale, the ERH Limited Partnership, N.H. Wheless Jr. and N.H. Wheless as trustee for the Elise Wheless Hook Trust.

Early plans envision several phases, with an inner core of buildings with enhanced security, lease properties, a "dish garden" (the name given to areas where satellite dishes are clustered) and conference and visitor centers.

Altimus said more land east toward Interstate 220, some owned by those individuals and some by Louisiana Downs, also could be acquired for expansion.

Pledging money like that at the start jumps a hurdle that often hurts a community seeking such facilities, Jones said.

"The commitment by Bossier City and Bossier Parish to get out front and make a substantial investment in the future of Barksdale moved this along rather quickly. And it has raised the bar for other cities, competitors, to try to top."

These competitors include Belleville, Ill., Omaha, Neb., San Antonio and Langley, Va., Jones said.

That makes this a horse race, with $100 million at stake.

"Until the secretary of the Air Force announces it, nothing's a done deal," Jones said.

Center's economic impact

Altimus and Walker say the innovation center development would increase the tax base and cause a mushrooming of schools and local services.

And it would impact transportation, with Louisiana agreeing to create an I-20/Interstate 220 spur onto Barksdale that could affect several aspects of the base's mission.

All this buttresses their estimate of 10,000 jobs — possibly more — that could be here in the next few years.

At Vandenberg, a 2006 study says, space-oriented military activity resulted in 8,300 jobs, with a direct impact of $555.4 million.

"The strong income impact is due largely to the high salaries associated with the aerospace industry and the demand for technical consulting services made by the base and its contractors," says the study, which looked at 2004 numbers and was the work of the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Studies Altimus and others consulted show these jobs with annual salaries at $70,000 and upward.

Altimus said such growth also has happened in Colorado Springs, Colo., after Air Space Command opened there in the early 1980s.

And he cited Cummings Research Park in Huntsville, Ala., which witnessed the creation of thousands of well-paying space program jobs when it was created in the 1960s. The 3,843-acre park now employs 25,000 workers in nearly 300 tenant companies.

"We think the same parallel would occur here," Altimus said. "Honestly, we think the real potential is more than what has been stated so far."

Analyst: Count your pennies

Washington defense analyst John Pike, founder of GlobalSecurity.Org, suggests caution since not all military information warfare initiatives have blossomed on the civilian side.

"They need to count their pennies," he said. "They need to understand very clearly what's it going to cost and what's it going to get?

"It's not going to be the Manhattan Project," he said, referring to the effort to develop and build the first atomic bombs.

"That was $25 billion over four years."

And Pike said not all high-tech government enterprises spawn economic growth. He cited Fort Meade, Md., home of the National Security Agency, whose work to a large degree parallels that planned for the cyber commands here. "There's a surprising absence of an off-site contractor presence outside Fort Meade. It's not there."

He also said what the Air Force is planning here runs against the grain for that branch.

"Every time the Air Force has started thinking about itself as being an information operations service, as opposed to a 'hot steel on target' service, after a little while, they get down that road and they say 'You know, information operations just really doesn't have that much in common with air power.' It has a different set of tools, a different set of principles, a different set of skills."

It doesn't involve flying or destroying targets. And in the Air Force, those are almost requirements for advancing to higher command, Pike said. So it might also be seen as a dead-end career field, he noted.

"So very different"

In fact, Pike concluded, "Information operations is so very different from air power, there's no particular reason you have to be in the Air Force to do it."

Elder said Pike "is factually correct. However, Cyber Command reflects a major shift in Air Force thinking back to its roots, emphasizing operational effects and strategic thought (versus) simply tactical approaches to war fighting.

"(The) Air Force intends to integrate air, space and cyberspace rather than present these capabilities independently," Elder said. "That is what makes our approach different from the other services.

"And the Cyber Command is not only network ops — it is also electronic attack, a form of electronic warfare. ... So it does involve aircraft and aircraft-delivered effects."

Recent pronouncements from Air Force leaders further emphasize the importance of the cyber realm and promise growth in its career fields, signaling change as well.

"The Air Force is a business and, like any other business, is being asked to do more with less," Altimus said.

"Funding and personnel, I am sure, are constant concerns. There is value in streamlining. And having various functions in one location can create savings."

Walker, a retired Air Force colonel and combat-decorated pilot, said the importance of what could happen at Barksdale transcends its impact on the economy. "By far and away, the most important thing is the defense of the nation.

"What's least understood by the average citizen out there is that this affects them," he said. "They are in this war because they will be directly impacted negatively by an enemy's use of this electromagnetic spectrum to do harm to the United States."


Copyright 2007, The Shreveport Times