Columbia River Gorge company lands contact to develop nation’s next spy craft

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Boeing subsidiary lands $43.7M military contract

BINGEN, Wash. — Boeing subsidiary Insitu Inc. has won a $43.7 million contract to build the military’s next generation of remote-controlled spy craft.

The company based in the Columbia River Gorge town of Bingen, Wash., beat out several competitors to develop the drone.

Design improvements and testing were expected to take two years, with production of the Integrator surveillance and reconnaissance drone scheduled to begin in 2013. The contract is for up to 56 Integrator systems.

Insitu’s ScanEagle unmanned drones have been used by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps since 2004. The company’s drones are used primarily for surveillance.

News of the contract spread quickly through Bingen on Friday.

“I know they’ve been working hard for it and on pins and needles, so I’m happy for them,” said Marsha Holliston, manager of the Mount Adams Chamber of Commerce. The chamber represents the western end of Klickitat County, where Bingen is located.

Insitu has grown exponentially. It had four employees in 1994, 30 in 2004 and 360 in 2008, when it was acquired by Boeing Co. Today, it employs about 700 people, mostly in offices scattered throughout the Columbia River Gorge, including facilities across the river in Oregon.

“I’m not going to say (local businesses) are thriving, but they’re certainly not closing their doors like they are in other communities because of (Insitu’s) generosity,” Holliston said.

Trish Leighton, the central coordinator for the Columbia River Fellowship for Peace, says it’s unfortunate that the area’s economy relies so heavily on a company that creates drones used for war.

“In this area, we have really intelligent engineers,” Leighton said. “I think that we can use that intelligence to create some other kind of economy. They don’t have to do robotic warfare.”

Company spokeswoman Jill Vacek said it is too early to say how the new contract would affect the company and the community, but a year ago, Insitu CEO Steve Sliwa said Insitu would search for a prospective new site in the gorge to accommodate expanded production.

Vacek said Friday that the company is still looking.

“Down the road, we may condense and move our facilities closer together, but it’s still in the early planning stages,” she said.

Information from: The Oregonian,

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