Imagine you’re on a tour exploring the elements of the Tucson and southern Arizona regional aerospace and defense industry. What would you experience along the way?


You’d be visiting big companies like Raytheon Missile Systems and Honeywell, smaller ones like Paragon Space Development, and new ones like World View. For research and development, you’d be stopping at The University of Arizona (UA) and the UA Tech Park. And, of course, your tour would be incomplete without checking out Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.


To say the least, the region’s aerospace and defense sector is bustling and represents a major component of Arizona’s economy. Business Facilities magazine ranks the region as one of the top 6 areas in the U.S. for this industry.


According to, Tucson’s highly concentrated aerospace manufacturing sector has an 8.35 location quotient, a ratio calculated to compare a region’s industrial activity level to the rest of the United States. In other words, Tucson’s concentration of aerospace manufacturing is 8.35 times the average of all U.S. statistical areas.


A contributing factor to this success is the presence of the University of Arizona (UA), a research powerhouse in the field. The UA is also home to the Department of Homeland Security’s National Center for Border Security and Immigration. The colleges of Engineering, Science, Management, and Optical Sciences all have strong research programs in fields relevant to aerospace and defense, and departments throughout the UA have numerous contract and joint research collaborations underway with private industry. The College of Engineering in particular has a rich history and a quality reputation as a partner that prioritizes industry projects.


On the whole, UA faculty and researchers are advancing technology and moving inventions stemming from research out into the marketplace through a variety of channels. The UA has a long-standing relationship with Raytheon, which brings the expertise of UA researchers brought to bear on cutting-edge defense technologies. Through the UA’s Defense and Security Research Institute, the university leverages its research expertise by building relationships with companies to develop practical solutions to defense-related challenges. As indicated by its hiring of top space situational awareness expert Moriba Jah this year, the university has set its sights on being the national leader in space object behavioral sciences.


Another highly successful trajectory for bringing UA inventions to market is the university’s office focused on technology commercialization, Tech Launch Arizona (TLA). With the help of TLA, university innovators are putting polish on their early-stage technologies and moving them towards the market via licenses to existing and startup companies.


Building on the synergy of private-public partnerships, Tech Parks Arizona — a unit of Tech Launch Arizona — creates Interactive Ground, a place that connects the university, the surrounding community and regional industry in the pursuit of technology innovation and commercialization. Tech Parks Arizona is cultivating innovation hubs that unite industry and research to advance leading-edge technology.


The Security Innovation Hub being built at the UA Tech Park provides a strategic location and connectivity among industry partners, university researchers and facilities to prepare technologies for market. The goal of the Hub is to assist in the identification, research, evaluation, testing, demonstration and deployment of security technology on behalf of government and industry.


Tech Parks Arizona is also leading the development of Innovation Frontier Southwest, expanding the defense and security manufacturing base in southern Arizona and New Mexico by connecting the UA and New Mexico State University in Las Cruces with technology companies. This initiative is helping companies grow their bases and attract new ones into the region by building on an already significant defense and security industry.


As your regional tour continues, you find that three major military installations — Davis-Monthan, Luke Air Force Base and Fort Huachuca — provide powerful resources in both physical assets and personnel to perform testing and evaluation of new products.


In the end, this tour is by no means imaginary. It is very real, and it’s happening all around us.


Contributing to this article were Bruce A. Wright, associate vice president, Tech Parks Arizona, and David Allen, vice president of Tech Launch Arizona, at The University of Arizona.


Photo credit: Pixabay