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DOD contract fuels $41.2M expansion of Orange County rocket factory

Defense contractor L3Harris Technologies has entered into an agreement with Orange County to fund a $41.2 million expansion and modernization of the company’s Aerojet Rocketdyne facility there.

The effort is intended to increase solid rocket motor production while growing the company’s presence in the commonwealth, according to a joint statement from Orange County, Gov. Glenn Youngkin and L3Harris.

The company plans to construct new facilities, purchase equipment and hire 80 people in Orange over the next three years.

The majority of the investment will come from an cooperative agreement Aerojet Rocketdyne signed with the Department of Defense last year, according to the statement.

L3Harris, a Florida-based defense contractor and technology company, purchased Aerojet, including its Orange County factory, last year, bringing on 5,000 employees at multiple locations around the country. The acquisition formed a fourth L3Harris business segment focused on missile defense systems and hypersonic and advanced rocket engines, according to reports at the time.

L3Harris will contribute internal capital for the Orange plant expansion, alongside $2.18 million in incentives from the commonwealth of Virginia and Orange County to support site improvement and construction efforts.

“This agreement builds upon company and U.S. government investments in our solid rocket motor production capabilities for critical defense systems,” Aerojet Rocketdyne President Ross Niebergall said in a statement. “We have been a part of the Virginia community for decades and look forward to growing our talented workforce here as we produce the vital propulsion that helps protect our nation and its allies.”

An impetus for the expansion and new hires, Aerojet Rocketdyne is relocating manufacturing of Stinger and Javelin propulsion from Arkansas to the Orange County plant.

Mark Farley, vice president of site operations and manufacturing, said the move will support a focus on medium and large solid rocket motors in Arkansas while concentrating on small motors in Virginia.

It’s part of a larger $215 million DOD contract signed last year to meet increased demand for weapons, according to the statement.

Aerojet in Orange County is home to some of the most advanced defense and space propulsion research, development and manufacturing operations in the world, according to the company. It includes the Orange Altitude Test Facility, a fully equipped propellant lab and a state-of-the-art air-breathing test facility.

The nation’s security depends on defense manufacturers like L3Harris, said Youngkin.

“We are proud that this long-term corporate partner continues to reinvest in Virginia,” he said in the joint statement. “The Commonwealth’s vibrant industrial and technological ecosystem provides an ideal home for the booming aerospace industry, underpinned by a top-notch workforce pipeline that draws from thousands of service members who exit the armed services in Virginia every year and our excellent schools that ensure a steady flow of new talent.”

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman R. Mark Johnson called it an exciting announcement he said was supported by him and the rest of the board of supervisors and economic development team.

“L3Harris has been an important member of our business community for many years — making their $41.2 million investment particularly gratifying,” he said.

In 2015, Aerojet Rocketdyne announced an $11 million expansion to add 50,000 square feet to its Orange facility, creating 100 jobs. Then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe attended the groundbreaking to announce a $300,000 contribution from the commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund.

The large fenced-in facility has operated in Orange since the 1980s, near the southern county line of Culpeper, producing boosters for space missions, in addition to missile systems and other weapons and rocket components.

On May 7, the company announced Aerojet Rocketdyne had also been awarded a $22 million DOD contract to develop a prototype solution for the “Growing Additive Manufacturing Maturity for Airbreathing Hypersonics (GAMMA-H)” challenge. The program is part of the DOD’s ongoing effort to expand current processes to manufacture hypersonic weapons components.


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