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Raytheon's Missiles Are Now Made by Robots

Raytheon's missile-assembly facility and the missiles it produces (SM-3 and SM-6) near Huntsville, Ala.
Raytheon's missile-assembly facility and the missiles it produces (SM-3 and SM-6) near Huntsville, Ala.Photograph courtesy Raytheon

Randy Stevenson has built a lot of missiles. Over the last 40 years or so, he’s worked for Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. He climbed the ranks from missile technician to overseeing the construction of five missile factories scattered through the southern United States. These days, Stevenson finds himself back at Raytheon, where he’s the director of weapons of integration, having just constructed what may be the most advanced weapons plant of its kind in the world.

The 55,000-square-foot Raytheon facility opened its doors last month in Huntsville, Ala., to produce the Standard Missile-3 and SM-6, interceptors used by the U.S. Navy to shoot down ballistic missiles. The factory stands as unique because of its heavy use of autonomous transport vehicles that carry missile components throughout the factory, removing the need for humans to pick up and move the explosives. “There’s a saying that an older gentleman told me at the beginning of my career,” says Stevenson. “If you don’t want to have problems with explosives, don’t handle them.”