Officials with West Point’s Navistar Defense, LLC announced the company received an $880 million order to upgrade Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles for the U.S. Marine Corps Tuesday.
An Associated Press report on the contract said the work force of about 100 at the Navistar plant will begin upgrading 2,717 MaxxPro MRAP vehicles in January and finish in October 2013. The report also says the upgrade entails removing the body from each vehicle and installing a new rolling chassis system, which will improve off-road performance.
West Point Chief Administrative Officer Randy Jones said the order was wonderful news for the city.
“Any time you get a contract that large, it’s good news,” Jones said.
This order shows why Navistar is crucial to West Point’s economic well-being, Jones said. The city benefits from both the sales tax employees generate and the taxes Navistar pays on personal property and inventory, he said.
“It’s not pocket change,” Jones said. “It’s several thousands of dollars.”
Elissa Koc, a spokesperson with Navistar, said the company has produced several different types of MaxxPro MRAP vehicles as the U.S. military has shifted between war fronts. For instance, she said, early MaxxPro MRAP vehicles produced for the war in Iraq were equipped with standard road axles, because Iraq had extensive road infrastructure in place. When the military shifted forces to Afghanistan, they found less road infrastructure, so the MRAPs produced at that time had suspension systems more suited for off-road travel, she said.
Koc said, each successive generation of MaxxPro MRAP models has also come equipped with stronger armor to protect soldiers from more powerful roadside bombs. She said the upgrades will help equalize the U.S. military’s MaxxPro MRAP fleet, estimated at more than 9,000, with 25,000-26,000 used by militaries around the world.
“What the rolling chassis does is it takes earlier models and brings mobility and engine and drive train to the same level of performance as some of the more recent vehicles,” Koc said. “You can use each variant in a similar way and not worry about which one has independent suspension (or other features).”
Koc said the Navistar plant will not hire any new employees for the order. Navistar hires on a contract basis, she said, bringing employees in as needed for new projects for only the time needed for those projects to finish.
High demand for MRAP vehicles brought Navistar’s work force well above its standard employment level of 100 in 2007 and 2008, Koc said, but when demand was not sustained, Navistar faced a series of layoffs, including 300 employees laid off in summer 2011. While more employees are not needed for this order, she said, Navistar is always looking for more contracts and is hopeful more will come in the years ahead. She said federal plans to downsize the U.S. military are likely to reduce domestic orders, but Navistar also works with U.S. allies which could provide opportunities.
“The facility has a number of contracts that have come to a close,” Koc said. “This is one to be added back. As we get more contracts, there will be impact to the employment level, but as of right now, you won’t see any change. It will be a different year compared with past years, but as we get more, we will have more work at West Point.”
Koc said the U.S. military will still have the budget for such projects as Navistar’s upgrades. Also, she said, upgrades will save the military money compared with building new vehicles from scratch.
“This demonstrates Navistar’s ability to upgrade a fleet to perform for 15- (to) 20-plus years,” Koc said. “As budgets are changing, that’s something Navistar can bring to the table — extending the life of existing trucks instead of having to buy brand new ones.”
Finally, Koc said, many of Navistar’s orders only last a few months, so the longer contract will provide Navistar’s baseline West Point employees with greater job security. Jones said he was happy to hear about the contract’s length.
“At least we don’t have to worry about layoffs,” Jones said. “(It’s good) that people (here) have the skills necessary to produce this technology.”