In the past few years, everything from drones to technology to defend against cyber attacks and improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, has been tested at Camp Atterbury.
The military installation near Edinburgh has moved away from preparing and deploying soldiers and has developed a new focus on training soldiers, law enforcement and other groups.
But officials also have found that the more than 30,000-acre facility, along with the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center about 50 miles away, can be used for testing. With restricted airspace and plenty of land at Camp Atterbury, a setup that mocks an urban location at Muscatatuck in nearby Jennings County, along with the nearby range at the Jefferson Proving Ground, the possibilities are endless, military officials said.
And that is a selling point that local economic development officials want to tap into.
Story continues below gallery
In the past several months, local officials have restarted meetings with leaders from the Indiana National Guard to discuss how their military installations can help draw in new businesses and develop a new work sector, focused on defense and homeland security.
Think Crane Naval Base in southwestern Indiana, and what has developed around it, or the aerospace industry around the Maxwell Air Force Base in Huntsville, Alabama. That is what they would like Johnson County and other surrounding communities to look like one day.
“Indiana has a tremendous opportunity to showcase what we have in Atterbury and Muscatatuck. It’s one of the only types of entities in the country like it,” said Cheryl Morphew, president and chief executive officer of the Johnson County Development Corp.
“What we’re working on now is developing that strategy and what does that marketing message look like.”
The military’s role is to give local officials the information they need to tout what their installations have to offer, said Maj. Gen. Corey Carr, the adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard. Before becoming the guard’s leader, Carr had served as president of the Columbus Economic Development Board.
“We want to share information, what communities have, what we have, and they can market that to companies,” Carr said.
“They don’t need guidance on how to attract business, they need information.”
In the past several years, Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck have seen their roles change. After conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down, the installations no longer needed to train and prepare thousands of soldiers for deployment. Instead, military officials began marketing the facilities for training for military groups, law enforcement, homeland security and private groups.
One big selling point is cost.
Camp Atterbury has lodging on site, meaning the groups training won’t need to travel across an area on shuttles or buses, as they have had to do in other areas, Carr said. That has the potential of saving millions, he said.
By bringing in more and different types of training, the military has been able to diversify its customer base and continue to grow, despite losing the deployments the installations had become known for, said Col. Chris Pfaff, Indiana National Guard director of strategic initiatives.
“There is this perception that there is not a lot of activity. But it’s the opposite. Our numbers rival what we saw at the height of mobilization,” Pfaff said.
And one area the military is focusing on is in cyber training, and learning how online systems can be attacked.
At Muscatatuck, that training can also be done in a real environment, with buildings and utilities, said Col. Dale Lyles, director of Atterbury-Muscatatuck Center for Complex Operations.
Cyber Shield training on how to defend against a cyber attack recently finished at Camp Atterbury. This month, training was scheduled to focus on how to defend against someone hacking into an industrial control system, such as for a water plant or power grid, officials said.
Another key focus area is allowing for testing at those facilities, officials said.
Two to three years after the recent conflicts began in the Middle East, military officials were finding that the enemy’s development of fighting techniques, such as IEDs, was progressing faster than the U.S. response could. So the U.S. military made changes, including by allowing development of new technology to happen faster and get into soldiers’ hands faster, Carr said.
That meant that more testing was needed, and the same is true now for electronic warfare, which the military is continually finding new and better ways to defend against, he said.
And the possibilities continue from there, with drones, robotics, sensors and lasers, he said.
Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck can be key areas for testing, and that is a selling point for businesses, Carr said.
The new focus at Camp Atterbury have been a boost to local economic development efforts, Morphew said.
“The changes at Atterbury help us better clarify what we are doing today and how we can help them. We have been focused on innovation-based manufacturing forever. It’s a natural fit for us,” she said.
For local economic development officials, the focus is on showing companies that specialize in cyber security or unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, for example, what’s available locally. That includes the local workforce, which is trained in manufacturing, and the continued efforts of schools and other groups to educate the upcoming workforce on new technology, Morphew said.
Exactly what the message will be to those companies, and how local officials plan to reach them, is still being decided. But the attention that Atterbury and Muscatatuck are getting can only be beneficial, she said.
“We are not there yet to say ‘Do this and this.’ But we know what subsectors make sense,” Morphew said.
“As they identify their focus areas, we are already poised to support that.”
A small company which trains dogs in search and rescue recently located to Indiana from Pennsylvania, so economic development has already started, Carr said.