PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — The Naval Surface Warfare Center broke ground Friday morning on a new innovation and prototype facility. 

The previous facility was damaged during Hurricane Michael and has been vacant since the October 2018 storm. 

“We were here four and a half years ago right after Michael hit, and we could see the devastation around us,” Representative Neal Dunn said. “And but even at that time, you had commanders of all kinds of missions here on this naval base that could see the future, what they were going to rebuild.”

In the wake of the hurricane, Congress approved more than $110 million to help rebuild the base. About $60 million will go towards building the new facility. 

 “On the plus side, we’ve been able to replace their functions with a new, larger building,” Captain David Back. 

Back said the base is using the rebuild as an opportunity to expand and experiment. 

“To do things we couldn’t do before,” Back said. “Larger scientific areas, larger laboratories, larger high bays in order to do work on unmanned vehicles and increase our capability to do the missions and the research and development we need to do for the Navy of the future.”

The building will help scientists and engineers to develop technology at the rapid rate the navy demands. 

“We can’t wait for five or ten years to start something, plan research and test it, build it and get it out there, because, by that point, it’s no longer going to be relevant,” Back said. 

One of the most important missions? Disarming mines and laying mines in hostile areas. 

“So largely what we’re dealing with is how to more easily get people onto beaches,” Back said. “How to find and disarm mines, how to lay our own mines, how to get seals and other special operators in where they need to go, divers, that sort of thing.”

Putting all stages of the development processes under one roof will make faster production a reality. 

“I’ve seen a full-fledged system go from the fleet, says we need a system to do this,” Back said. “It comes here, we find someone out in industry that makes something close enough. We buy it, we modify it, we send it out to the fleet and they implement it within six months.”

Back said everything from research to testing will be done in the new facility