History of Defense in Mississippi
Mississippi is a strategic location for the defense industry and military operations. Mississippi started a presence in the defense industry in World War I and has kept its heavy pro-military presence in the state ever since. Mississippi provides the defense industry with various military testing, training, and weapon manufacturing. Construction of defense vessels at Ingalls Shipbuilding, military training exercises at Camp Shelby, and rocket engine testing at Stennis Space Center are just a few examples of what Mississippi has to offer.
After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I in 1957, President John F. Kennedy responded to congress by stating, “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” At the time, Mississippi Senator John Stennis wanted to achieve this same mission. There was a joint partnership among the aviation industry, the military, and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in the creation of a “Space Crescent” that stretched across the gulf states. The best fit for the new test site was located in Hancock County, Mississippi, because of its strategic placement with its location on the water, close proximity to the Michoul plant in New Orleans, support of the community, and due to Senator Stennis’s heavy influence.
A 1961 economic boom shook Hancock County creating 9,000 new jobs and an annual income of $65 million. The construction of the new Mississippi Test Facility (MTF) became the second largest construction project in the nation. The first mission of MTF was to test the first and second rings of Saturn V. MTF played a vital role in the success of the Apollo 11 mission. MTF is known today as the John C. Stennis Space Center; it was renamed in May of 1988 in honor of Senator Stennis for his efforts and loyalty to the space center. As chairman of the Senate of Armed Services Committee from 1969 to 1980, Senator Stennis heavily supported the U.S. military and its efforts. Through the years, the space center has grown and become a key area for government and private research facilities, with its biggest tenant being the U.S. Navy. The space center is home of Special Boat Team-22 which as a special-operations force group designated for riverine extraction.
In 1926, Mayor Hugh White of Columbia had a desire to bring industry and jobs to Mississippi during a time of poverty in the state. He went to Chicago and made a deal with a men’s clothing manufacture, Reliance Manufacturing, to bring a plant to the state. The partnership between Reliance and Columbia fulfilled White’s vision of “Balancing Agriculture with Industry”. Due to White’s leadership, in 1936, the Industrial Act of 1936 was legislated and allowed local communities to make proposals to build manufacturing plants before the Balancing Agriculture with Industry Board. From 1936 to 1940, twelve manufactures were established around the state with the most important one being Ingalls Shipyard.
Ingalls Shipbuilding Company was founded in 1938, and is today the largest producer of ships for the U.S. Navy. After World War II, Ingalls further advanced its production of Navy combat vessels. In 1956, Ingalls built two Sherman-class destroyers for the United States Navy that was fully equipped with 5-inch guns, three antiaircraft guns, and one set of torpedo tubes. Ingalls was the first shipyard to construct ships equipped with the Aegis Combat System and to repair ships with vertical launching system. In 2001, Ingalls built the USS Iwo Jima which was the first ship to be designed and constructed as an amphibious assault ship. Today, Ingalls is commonly referred to as the “shipyard of the future”. Many would say they are the best at what they do and continue to be master ship builders for the U.S. Navy. Today Ingalls continues to bring economic growth to Mississippi by remaining the largest manufacturing employer in the state.
The European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) is the second largest aerospace and defense company in the world, and it has recently constructed a plant in Columbus, Mississippi, at the Golden Triangle and Regional Airport. The site was appealing due to its close proximity to Columbus Air Force Base and being in the same region as Starkville which makes Mississippi State University’s engineering and technology readily available. The U.S. Army has a contract with the company to build the next generation of light utility helicopters. The plant has created new jobs in the state and has also shown that Mississippi is a part of the global aerospace industry.
Mississippi’s Gulf Coast has a proud military history. The Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport began as an airfield for military training and today is a full-service airport. The Gulfport-Biloxi Airport was established in 1942 as the Army Airfield. With World War II beginning, the airfield was utilized by the crews of the B-29 Superfortress, B-17 Flying Fortress, and B-24 Liberator for training purposes. After World War II, the city of Gulfport was given the Army Airfield and surrounding land by the War Department to create a civil airport. The Mississippi National Guard began to utilize the airfield in 1953 for training activities which have developed today into the Combat Readiness Training Center including Battlefield Airman Center and Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group. These training facilities prepare thousands of military personnel each year.
In 1977, the Gulfport-Biloxi Regional Airport Authority was developed by the city of Gulfport, the city of Biloxi, and Harrison County. Since the formation of the airport, it has seen many advancements and growth. The airport has expanded to 1,600 acres, and the current terminal is about 160,000 square feet providing easy access and convenience for passengers. In 2017, the airport saw nearly 646,000 passengers. The airport provides five airlines, six car rental companies, multiple taxi services along with Uber and Lyft, and two airport hotels. Many improvements have been made to the airport over the years including a covered parking garage.
The Gulfport-Biloxi Airport provides a substantial amount of annual economic impact of nearly $291 million into the local economy each year. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested into the airport by both public and private sources to continue the growth of the airport. The airport has grown commercially while also improving its relationship with the military. Around 47 percent of the airport’s operations are supplied by the military and their partnership with the Combat Readiness Training Center. The Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport plans to continue to advance commercially while also strengthening its partnership with the military.
Mississippi has strong support and contribution to our national defense of the United States military, and it is able to use its strategic location to further advances and show a strong pro-military presence in the United States. Mississippi has the right resources that can advance the state to be a vital logistics hub for the Department of Defense as it continues to be a key player in the pursuit of military programs across the state. Ingalls and Stennis have been a presence in the defense industry for years, and EADS is a new globally recognized company that shows Mississippi’s ongoing support to the Department of Defense.
Dougherty, K. (2010). Weapons of Mississippi (pp. 110-124, 141-150). Univ. Press of Mississippi