U.S. Navy R&D Center Closed by Hurricane Michael
Hurricane Michael took a heavy toll on the USAF's Tyndall Air Force Base at Panama City, Florida, as has been well-publicized in the media. But damage to the U.S. Navy's surface warfare research center at Panama City could also have serious implications. It was the only Navy installation to evacuate in advance of the storm, and it is still closed to all but the most essential personnel.
In a notice to servicemembers on Sunday, the command said that most servicemembers and employees will be on administrative leave until further notice, and the site will not reopen until electricity and water service have been restored. The timeline for a full reopening is not yet known.
Navy Contingency Engineering Response Team (CERT) members are inspecting the base to determine the extent of the damage, and NSA Panama City reported Monday that it is making progress towards recovery. Seabees are removing downed trees and debris; sailors with on-base housing are rotating through to retrieve their belongings and check on their homes; and work on water service restoration contines.
NSA Panama City is home to some of the Navy's key research, development and testing work for mine warfare, special operations warfare, diving systems and unmanned systems. It is central to the development of the Littoral Combat Ship's long-delayed Mine Countermeasure Mission Package program, which faced initial challenges fielding an unmanned vessel platform that can be deployed and maintained aboard an LCS. The service canceled testing for its first platform, the Lockheed-built Remote Multi Mission Vehicle, due to reliability issues.
According to industry site Breaking Defense, the Navy's top program manager for mine warfare is concerned that the storm may have damaged key equipment. “Some of the buildings were damaged," program manager Capt. Danielle George told NDIA’s Expeditionary Warfare conference in Annapolis. “Possibly some of the equipment that was in there, ranging from government accepted test pieces of equipment to manufacturing capability for one-off parts for legacy systems” could have been affected by the storm, she said.
The center's testbed vessel, the catamaran Sea Fighter, anchored in sheltered waters in advance of the storm and weathered it without damage. Sea Fighter serves as a surrogate for the Littoral Combat Ship variants for weapons package testing.