Marking 70 Years in Tucson, Arizona
By Romi Carrell Wittman
On Feb. 3, 1951, nearly the entire front page of the Arizona Daily Star was centered on one monumental news story: Work begins on Hughes defense plant.
Hughes Aircraft Company, founded by famed aviator, movie mogul and industrialist Howard Hughes, launched Tucson from a small desert town of roughly 46,000 people to what it is today – home to a global defense giant that is now the kingpin of the entire Southern Arizona economy.
And yet, the plant was almost built in Phoenix.
Fearing his plant in Culver City, Calif. was vulnerable to attack during the Korean War, Hughes sought an inland location for his next manufacturing facility. He considered locations throughout the West, from Arizona to Texas, with Phoenix, Colorado Springs, Colo. and Albuquerque, N.M. at the top of the list. When Hughes zeroed in on an 1,800-acre parcel near Phoenix, word got out and land speculation drove prices sky high – to more than $1,000 an acre.
Tucson’s civic leaders, including real estate executive Roy Drachman and Tucson Airport Authority’s Monte Mansfield, saw a lucrative opportunity. But they knew they had to do something bold to entice the aviator to build here. So began an intense lobbying campaign, including 10 days of site tours and top-secret meetings with Hughes. But the icing on the cake was likely the deal that Drachman, Mansfield and other leaders were able to broker: TAA would sell Hughes roughly 2,400 acres of land at a cost of $50 per acre.
And so, the decision was made. The plant would be built in Tucson by the Del E. Webb Construction Company. The original facility, known as Building 801, was completed in October 1951 and contained 13 acres under one roof.
The company retained the name Hughes Aircraft Company until 1997, when Raytheon Company acquired Hughes’ defense business. The Tucson operation was renamed Raytheon Missile Systems, a name it maintained until 2020, when Raytheon Company and United Technologies merged to form one of the largest aerospace and defense companies in the world. The parent organization became Raytheon Technologies. With annual revenues of more than $64.6 billion and an employee roster of 181,000, Raytheon Technologies comprises four business units: Pratt & Whitney, Collins Aerospace, Raytheon Intelligence & Space and the Tucson-headquartered Raytheon Missiles & Defense.
In its 70 years in Tucson, Raytheon Missiles & Defense has had an immeasurable impact in the region. It has contributed more than $2.6 billion in economic impact statewide each year. As Tucson’s single largest private employer, it provides high-wage jobs to more than 12,500 employees. It also supports other businesses by spending more than $600 million annually with local suppliers. Of that, some $300 million in business is with small and diverse suppliers.
“I have a mantra that I’ve had since the first day I arrived and it’s ‘What have we done for Raytheon today?’” said Joe Snell, president and CEO at Sun Corridor Inc., the region’s economic development arm. “We need to adopt that, from our elected officials to all of our businesses, because they are the largest private employer in Southern Arizona − definitely the granddaddy of them all in the Tucson metro area − and everything good or bad derives from their presence here.”
The recent merger of Raytheon Company with United Technologies has meant meaningful growth for the Tucson facility. The so-called ‘merger of equals’ has resulted in a company worth roughly $121 billion and it was the largest merger ever in the aerospace and defense sector.
Commenting on the merger, Raytheon Missiles & Defense President Wes Kremer said, “To bring the legacy missile systems and integrated defense systems into [what is] now Raytheon Missiles & Defense … to be able to put together the premier radar house with the premier missile house … I’m most excited about the capability [this represents].”
While its headquarters are in Tucson, the business unit employs more than 30,000 people worldwide and posts annual sales of $15 billion. It has six divisions: Air Power, Counter-UAS, Hypersonics, Land Warfare and Air Defense, Strategic Missile Defense and Naval Power.
Hypersonics, in particular, represent the future of the defense industry and Raytheon, Kremer said. While hypersonic technology has existed in the United States for decades, it hasn’t been deployed in the defense industry here until recently.
Hypersonic weapons are those that travel at speeds greater than Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. The benefits of hypersonic technology are manifest: much faster, more agile missiles with longer ranges. Misty Holmes, Raytheon’s executive director of the hypersonic campaign, said these missiles’ ability to maneuver is what makes them unique. “That’s really what differentiates them from traditional ballistic missiles,” she said.
Other nations actively have been investing in hypersonic missile defense technology for some time, leaving the United States to play catch up. Recently, President Joe Biden committed $3.8 billion to defense-related hypersonics research. Raytheon’s work on hypersonics is ongoing, with modeling, prototyping and range testing yet to be completed.
While Raytheon’s status as a defense leader – and as Tucson’s largest private employer – is well known, the defense giant has become a major force in the community. Its employees contribute more than 60,000 volunteer hours to local non-profits. In addition, Raytheon is also a driving force in education and workforce development organizations. This, of course, benefits Raytheon because it means the company can cultivate a highly qualified pool of local talent. It also benefits Tucson residents in many ways, chiefly by offering access to high-quality science, technology, engineering and math educational paths.
Raytheon invests heavily in university partnerships, collaborations that support, research, manufacturing and the development of next-generation technologies – like hypersonics.
To this end, the company has collaborated with all three Arizona universities and, in 2020, it announced a hypersonics collaboration with the University of Arizona. Raytheon even assisted UArizona in obtaining federal and state funds to upgrade its wind-tunnel testing facilities, which the company has used extensively. In addition, Raytheon is working with UArizona to develop academic curriculum and research programs in hypersonic engineering with the goal of fostering talent and the next generation of innovators.
“As we continue to grow, we will need top talent,” Kremer said.
Raytheon is also fostering talent before college, by investing in the high schools and through the Pima Joint Technical Education District, where it funded a namesake event center at the brand-new Pima JTED @ The Bridges.
“I would say Raytheon has set the bar for leadership in inspiring other local companies to engage at many different levels,” said Pima JTED Superintendent Kathy Prather. “They really have taken that leadership role and the other organizations are seeing that and I think it’s safe to say we have more engagement right now than we have ever seen before in our business and industry advisory committees.”
Kremer is proud of what Raytheon has accomplished, as well as the company’s significant contributions to Arizona. At the same time, he’s grateful to the local community, saying none of the company’s success would have been possible without the support of the Southern Arizona region.
“We’ve created a hub of technology right here in our own backyard in Tucson,” he said. “I’m really proud to be the leader of this great organization.”