HUNTSVILLE — Huntsville’s hot market for engineers got hotter Monday with news that Northrop Grumman will hire 500 more engineers to support America’s new Air Force-led defense against foreign nuclear missile attack.

Northrop leaders cited the city’s “rich expertise and legacy” in the command and control systems used to operate missiles including those that protect America from foreign attack. The city has long been involved in the missile defense “triad” of ground, air and sea-based defense.

Northrop won a contract in 2020 worth nearly $14 billion to replace the country’s 60-year-old Minute Man missile defense system. The system is prepared 24/7 to launch missiles against an attack immediately on the president’s command.

The contract is what is called “womb to tomb” meaning development of the new missile, the new command and control launch systems and all of the silos, launch centers and around-the-clock crews to staff them, Northrop’s Greg Manuel said in Huntsville on Tuesday. Manuel is vice president and general manager of Northrop’s Space Systems Strategic Deterrent Systems.

“We went on a search to understand where the pockets of expertise are that we were going to need to develop, build and deploy a weapon system,” Manuel said. “Huntsville was one of them. We also picked Colorado Springs, Bellevue, Nebraska, and San Diego for communications, but Huntsville is our largest what we call ‘spoke location.’” Reports also said some work will be done in Montgomery.

The recognition of missile expertise in Huntsville and Colorado Springs, Colorado, recalls a competition underway between the two growing tech cities. Both sought to be the permanent headquarters of the new U.S. Space Command, and Huntsville won in an Air Force decision being challenged by Colorado Springs. The two cities have multiple facilities and commands in the space arena.

In Huntsville, Northrop is looking specifically for software developers, system engineers, cyber engineers, cyber sciences, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. “But we also need business managers, buyers and administrators. And we do need mechanics,” Manuel said. “We are building a product at this site.”

Manuel declined for security reasons to say what will be produced in Huntsville, but did say, “We will be building a portion of the missile here.”

The company’s challenge is the market for those skills is “extremely strained,” Manuel said. “It doesn’t matter where you go within the Huntsville area, all of aerospace and defense is looking for the same resources. So, it’s a great opportunity, and that’s why we’re (also) bringing an awful lot of talent from other places across the United States.”

Recruiting to Huntsville is “much like anyplace else,” Manuel said. “You have to get through the process of advertising what Huntsville really is, and what Huntsville really isn’t, just like Northern Utah when we relocated our headquarters from Southern California.” The company eventually got 600 of 1,000 employees to make that move from California, he said.

The company will be working on the missile project at a building in the older, original part of Cummings Research Park called Cummings Research Park East. “We’d like to start the revitalization,” Manuel said.

The area is already seeing growth and changes driven in part by the demand for office space near Redstone Arsenal. The new permanent campus of the Alabama School for Cyber Engineering and Technology and the MidCity amphitheater “are reshaping CRP East into a more vibrant and active part of Cummings Research Park,” Erin Koshut, the park’s executive director, said Tuesday.

This isn’t Northrop Grumman’s first effort in Huntsville. The company has more than 2,000 employees in other operations here including software development for the Army.

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