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Letterkenny enters partnership to make defense vehicles

Depot to partner with BAE Systems and will produce one to three MRAPs a day by this fall

Depot to partner with BAE Systems and will produce one to three MRAPs a day by this fall

March 01, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- Letterkenny Army Depot has been modifying Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles since December, a job that will transition over the next several months to a production line employing 100 to 150 federal and contract workers, Depot Commander Col. Steven Shapiro said Friday.

Adjacent to the depot, in Building 52 of the Cumberland Valley Business Park, about 30 of the MRAPs were being worked on in what had been a warehouse. MRAP Division Chief Michael Gossard said a team of 37 federal and contract workers have been adding rear-door assists to make the heavy steel hatches easier to close, along with reconfiguring seating in the seven-person vehicle and other additions.

"We are, at Letterkenny, entering into a public-private partnership" with BAE Systems, a British defense contractor manufacturing the vehicles for the U.S. Department of Defense, Shapiro said.

"In September, we will be a manufacturing facility, which I think is a huge leap for the depot," Shapiro said.

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The Defense Department will order MRAPs from BAE and the depot will act as a subcontractor.

By this fall, Shapiro said the depot will be producing one to three MRAPs a day "from the lug nuts up."

Production could last three to five years, but BAE does not know what the final number of orders will be on the contract, he said.

That will be "driven by how long we're in Iraq and Afghanistan," Deputy Depot Commander John Gray said.

The vehicle to be produced at Letterkenny is likely to be a three-axle variant of the MRAP. Fully loaded, these MRAPs weigh 38,000 pounds, including 8,300 pounds of payload, according to specifications from BAE.

The V-shaped hull is designed to deflect the blast from mines and roadside bombs, providing greater protection for the crew and soldiers it carries, Shapiro said.

There is little room left in the portion of Building 52 the depot occupies. Shapiro said BAE is leasing and modifying the other part and will have about 20 of its employees involved in the program.

Production of the vehicles will require more space, Shapiro said. Basic production will occur in Building 350 inside the depot after which the vehicles will be driven to Building 52 for finishing.

The contract with the depot will augment production of MRAPs at BAE's York, Pa., facility, Franklin County Area Development Corp. President L. Michael Ross said. Production also will take place at another facility in Uniontown, Pa., he said.

Gossard said about half the people now working on the MRAP modifications came from the depot's Humvee program, with the rest being newly hired. As MRAP production begins, experienced workers off the Humvee line will be mixed with new contract and federal workers, he said.

That will also mean openings on the Humvee line, Shapiro said.

The depot once worked in partnership with United Defense in York, Pa., for the production of Paladin self-propelled howitzers. United Defense was later acquired by BAE and the relationship for MRAP production will be different, Shapiro said.

Where United Defense and the depot split the work on Paladin, the depot is a subcontractor for BAE, he said. The depot is seeking to form similar relationships with other contractors, such as Raytheon, he said.

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