For more than a half-century, the Army's flight activity center has worked out of Hangar 5 on the Navy side of what is now Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
The hangar was originally designed for the Navy's antisubmarine blimp fleet during World War II, and was later taken over by the Army, which now needs a larger, more modern facility.
This month, the first step was taken toward a new $42 million complex that will focus on aviation modification, research, development, and maintenance.
The state-of-the-art Ocean County site, called the Communications-Electronics Research and Development Center (CERDEC), was funded as part of the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.
Within two years, the center will move its headquarters and main mission functions into the new facility, which, officials say, should allow it to serve soldiers for 50 more years.
The Bedwell Co. of Pennsylvania was awarded the contract for the 107,000-square-foot project, which will be overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The site will have three main buildings, including high-bay and low-bay hangars, maintenance shops, and administrative offices as well as a fixed-wing taxiway and rotary-wing landing pad, said Henry Muller, CERDEC intelligence and information warfare director.
"The safety, the well-being, and a suitable workspace for the hardworking women and men devoted to CERDEC required a new venue," U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, (R., N.J.) told a crowd of military and civilian spectators gathered for a groundbreaking Friday. "The escalating risk of damage or destruction of aircraft and unique equipment had the potential to undermine the research, testing, reset, and remodification missions carried on daily at the facility, negatively impacting the [troops]."
The price tag of the facility had raised concerns among officials that the Pentagon might cancel the project, Smith said.
"Present-day downsizing and huge, potentially dangerous and destructive cuts in military spending have made securing new [military construction] a very daunting task," Smith said. "But here we are, working as a team - I began pushing in 2008 - working to make sure this important CERDEC component will stay right here, further ensuring that the [troops have] every advantage, including advanced sensors, to prevail on the battlefield."
The hangar project's military value became clear when the Army specifically requested it in the 2013 budget in an account that was slashed by more than $1 billion from 2012.
The groundbreaking ceremony also was attended by U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan (R., N.J.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
"Since being elected, I have been a strong supporter of improving infrastructure at [Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst]," Runyan said, "and it is great to be able to witness the start of the new Army flight complex, which I supported and helped secure."
CERDEC is part of the Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), which develops technology and engineering solutions for America's soldiers.
"We are all about helping the guy or gal on point in the middle of nowhere execute their mission and come home safely, and that's what we do every day, putting new capabilities in the hands of soldiers," said Dale Ormond, a civilian who is director of RDECOM.