Uncle Sam Wants You, Hawaii

Local companies offer their technology and services to the U.S. military – in exchange for federal funds

January, 2003

Roughly $683 million in U.S. Department of Defense funds has been set aside for Hawaii this fiscal year, thanks to an appropriations bill passed by the U.S. Senate and House last October by a 93-to-1 vote. The distribution of those dollars will go toward various projects: medical research; brown-tree-snake control; apprenticeship programs; etc., etc., etc.

A sizeable portion of the money ($202 million), however, will be used by the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, to refuel and modernize the submarine U.S.S. Bremerton, as part of a two-year project scheduled to begin September 2003. Military-related construction in Hawaii also is expected to receive $259 million.

In addition to the October bill, Hawaii also will receive – or rather share with other Pacific military units – a total of $21.3 million for other projects throughout the year. Why such generous handouts? Two reasons: Hawaii’s geographic proximity to Asia Pacific; and the potential for local companies to, ultimately, offer their services to the Pentagon. Dual-use, as they call it.

“The strategic importance of Hawaii and other bases, such as Guam and Okinawa, are becoming more significant, especially as the hot spots shift away from Eastern Europe and Russia to Asia,” says Steve Sombrero, senior vice president of Chaney Brooks & Co., a Honolulu real estate company that won a contract to manage 2,000 military houses on Ford Island. Chaney Brooks partnered with Mainland companies Hunt Building Corp. and Fluor Hawaii LLC to secure the bid. Their mission is to privatize the renovation, development and management of roughly 24,000 military houses in the state. “We know the U.S. military will have a major presence here and an impact on our economy,” he adds.

Yes, the U.S. military will have a positive impact on Hawaii’s economy, as long as local companies play their cards right. But how ironic is that? Hawaii is supposed to be a peaceful, tropical vacation spot – not a player in the military’s war against terrorism. Then again, perhaps that miasma always existed. And Sept. 11 simply woke us up.

At the time of this writing in late November, the U.S. Senate had just created a Homeland Security Department, a move that could put Hawaii at the epicenter of Pacific operations. Also at the time of this writing, Hawaii ports and vessels were beginning to beef up security.

One local group that is able to track terrorism activity – from the air and from under the ocean – is Science & Technology International, a Honolulu company known for its Litterol Airborne Sensor Hyperspectral Imaging System (a sensor that can track objects under water, from thousands of feet above water). Last November on the Mainland East Coast, STI outfitted its own airship (blimp) with the imaging device and was able to detect 30-inch simulated mines and terrorist campsites. As a result of that demonstration, the technology received Federal Aviation Administration approval.

“The airship has the potential to be a ‘command center’ in the sky during a national crisis, natural disaster or other emergencies,” says Nick Susner, STI president and chief executive officer.

Not only will the device safeguard the nation, but it will also protect the Hawaiian islands from potential threats. STI’s hyperspectral imaging device also is being tested as a detection device for cervical cancer.

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Cathy S. Cruz