Force Protection Gears Up New Factory in NC
The estimated $8.4 billion MRAP program for 7,774 mine-resistant vehicles has seen almost 63% of its orders issued, with new orders emerging as vehicles complete testing and production capacity opens up. Force Protection of Ladson, SC was a recent beneficiary of an “additional production” order, and they currently lead the MRAP competition with 36.5% of vehicles ordered. Beyond MRAP, however, the US Army may be looking for another 17,000 vehicles – and whatever replaces the 1980s-era flat-bottomed Hummers will also need an acceptable level of mine protection.
On July 12/07, the firm announced that it had purchased a new 430,000 square foot facility in Roxboro, Person County, NC, ownership effective immediately. The Roxboro facility will produce Cougar vehicles for the USA’s MRAP competition under the Force Dynamics partnership with General Dynamics.
It is also slated to produce the Cheetah, a smaller mine-resistant vehicle whose listed 14,000 pound curb weight is less than half of the MRAP CAT I Cougar 4×4’s 31,000 pounds…
The Cheetah’s lower curb weight allows CH-53 helicopter lift from ship to shore, and its slightly lower profile (89″ tall x 88″ wide x 212″ long) than the Cougar 4×4 makes for easier transport in amphibious ships. A cruise speed of 75 mph helps the Cheetah live up to its moniker, while its turning radius of 30 feet gives it the ability to maneuver in confined spaces like urban battlefields.
Now, TANSTAAFL – there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Lighter, smaller vehicles mean less protection, even with a v-hull design. Textron’s M1117 ASV, for instance, didn’t make it through the difficult MRAP testing at Aberdeen. Nevertheless, Force Protection claims that the Cheetah can withstand a 15 pound/ 7 kg TNT blast anywhere under the vehicle, 30 pounds/ 13.65 kg under the wheels, or 50 pounds/ 22 kg if detonated 6.5 feet/ 2 meters to the side. Testing will tell.
Cheetah isn’t deployed in theater yet, but the US Marine Corps has expressed interest and is moving to fast-track its evaluation. It is widely considered to be Force Protection’s Hummer replacement and scout vehicle offering, and is not part of the Force Dynamics 50/50 partnership between Force Protection, Inc. and General Dynamics.
The Roxboro facility will produce Cougar vehicles under the Force Dynamics partnership, building them alongside any of Force Protection’s exclusive Cheetah orders. For its part, General Dynamics is expanding Cougar production capacity with a new 80,000 square foot plant in Oxford, AL; and expansion of its workforce at Anniston, AL by 50 employees. Force Protection has pledged a production capacity of 400 vehicles per month from the total Force Dynamics partnership by February 2008.
With respect to the new Roxboro facility, Force Protection Executive Vice President Dan Busher praised Person County’s efforts in helping them set up the new plant. “The broad based community involvement in understanding our needs and proposing solutions has really been outstanding.” COO Raymond Pollard added: “At this new facility, we will initially have the capacity to produce approximately 2,000 vehicles in 2008.”
March 23/08: Reports from Roxboro, NC indicate that the plant remains idle due to the US Army’s shift of MRAP orders away from Force Protection, and may close without ever ramping up.
Nov 30/07: Force Protection, Inc. opens its new manufacturing facility in Roxboro, NC. The facility is expected to employ approximately 270 people upon reaching full capacity, and the total cost for the Roxboro facility’s assembly line was approximately $31 million. Force Protection release.