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Bound-for-Iraq armor proudly made in Stone County

McHenry — There’s a group of people in Stone County whose work each day is helping save lives of military personnel in the war in Iraq. The 50 highly-skilled and technical employees of General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products assemble tiles of reactive armor for Bradley fighting vehicles. The contract to assemble the armor comes in response to an urgent need for this critical safety improvement effort.

Opened last May, the 9,400-square-foot plant is a business unit of General Dynamics and is located on 465 acres of land in Stone County. It joins another General Dynamics facility established in 2002 to produce and assemble components in support of the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System family of rockets.

“This armor has saved untold lives in Iraq,” said General Dynamics director of communications John Suttle. “It was a big deal when we opened the plant because we had soldiers there who said they would not have been there without the armor. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

He said U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and Congressman Gene Taylor, both instrumental in locating the facility in Mississippi, also attended.

It takes 96 individual tile boxes of five different types to outfit one of the fighting vehicles. After the armor is assembled, it is shipped overseas where the U.S. Army mounts it on the exterior of the vehicles.

“The armor protects the crew, ammunition, engine, fuel and explosives,” Suttle said. “It’s a combination of explosive charges and highly sophisticated material that protects the vehicle when a projectile hits it.”

Equipped with General Dynamic’s reactive armor, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle is better able to withstand a direct hit from a variety of anti-armor munitions, including shoulder-fired rocket propelled grenades, which are in abundant supply in many of today’s regional conflicts, he said.

The product was especially designed to protect the vehicles from the shoulder-fired missiles being used in the Iraqi War. The plant also produces igniter assemblies for air-to-ground rockets that Apache attack helicopters — the foremost in the world — use.

“We’re running at full capacity right now and hopefully we can continue to produce greater quantities of armor in the future,” Suttle added. “The units equipped with this armor clearly have an advantage on the battlefield.”

Maj. John Conway, assistant product manager for Bradley systems, said, “Reactive armor has functioned very well. The soldiers in these units are excited about the product because it is providing a level of survivability that they previously didn’t have.”

Suttle says Mississippi was chosen as a site by General Dynamics for a number of factors. “Those include a pool of talented and skilled labor, a location convenient to transportation, a good climate and the support of leadership such as Sen. Cochran and Rep. Taylor,” he said.

Jere Hess, who worked for Stone County’s development organization when General Dynamics located its first facility there, could not be more pleased with the addition of a new function for the company.

“They continue to invest here and show their faith in this area and the people,” Hess, who now works for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, said. “We’re happy they chose Stone County and especially happy to produce a product here that helps our fighting men and women.”

Conway said, “All you have to do is read the news about the kind of threats our soldiers are encountering and you immediately realize that these tiles are saving lives because they are defeating the threats they were designed to defeat. For the foreseeable future, reactive armor is one of the best ways to defeat these kinds of threats.”

The production program is directed from General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products’ Vermont-based Burlington Technology Center, which has 12 locations including the one in Stone County.

General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products provides a broad range of system solutions for military and commercial applications. The company designs, develops and produces high-performance armament systems, a full range of advanced composite-based products, biological and chemical detection systems and mobile shelter systems.

Its products include systems for detection, protection and lethality, along with composite structures and commercial products. Customers include all branches of the U.S. Department of Defense and 33 allied nations.

Parent company General Dynamics, headquartered in Falls Church, Va., employs approximately 71,600 people worldwide. The company is a market leader in mission-critical information systems and technologies; land and expeditionary combat systems; armaments and munitions; shipbuilding and marine systems; and business aviation.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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