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Ed Tibbetts

First it was Humvees. Now, the Rock Island Arsenal is being called upon to make armor that can  protect five-ton trucks used in Iraq.

Within days, production will begin to fortify passenger cabs for the M939 truck, a medium-size vehicle used for a variety of transportation missions in Iraq.

Like the lighter-weight Humvees, the M939 is not armored, and with insurgents in the war-torn country increasing their attacks on Americans and Iraqis alike, the U.S. Army is trying to better protect its fleet of vehicles.

As a result, the Arsenal will be adding a third shift in its fabrication and machining areas for the first time since spring, when work on armoring Humvees slowed a bit.

"We are expanding the work force and we'll be working three shifts in all of the areas that are engaged," said Bill Peiffer, the chief of the business development division at the Joint

Manufacturing and Technology

Center.

An initial order for 1,150 M939 cab kits has already been placed with the Ground Systems Industrial Enterprise, which is headquartered on Arsenal Island and oversees a half-dozen other arsenals and depots around the country. A total of 660 of the units will be made at the Arsenal. However, that figure is likely to increase. Since placing the initial order, the Army has hiked its request for the cab kits to 6,000, said Fred Smith, the deputy director of the ground systems industrial group. The Arsenal could get half of that work.

The new cab kits, at about 4,000 pounds apiece, are heavier and more encompassing than the Humvee door kits, which weigh in at 1,500 pounds apiece. The cab kits will be flown overseas, where they will be installed on the trucks.

Arsenal officials have already said they intend to hire 130 more people over the next year to meet an anticipated increase in workload, which includes gun mounts and resetting tractor-trailers. In addition, they expect to be armoring more trucks than just the M939. Two other models are also likely to be armored  with some of the work probably coming to the Arsenal.

Over the past year, the Arsenal's work force has grown by about 150 people, a 10 percent increase and the first new hiring in a decade.

Armoring vehicles for the Iraq war is fast becoming a large-scale job. As the war has gone on longer than initially expected, the military has decided it must do more than just arm the tactical Humvees. "They're going to up-armor the whole lot of them," said John Pike, the director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense think tank.

Last month, Stewart & Stevenson Services of Houston set up an assembly line and hired more people to meet a $32 million contract the Army awarded for 385 armored cabs for medium-weight trucks, according to The Associated Press. Also, Armor Holdings Inc., a Jacksonville, Fla., company, announced last month that it had won a contract to supply armor systems for heavier trucks, a $30 million job.

Armor Holdings is a business partner with the Ground Systems Industrial Enterprise, which has its headquarters on Arsenal Island. "There's a lot of vehicles over there. This is a lot of work," Smith said.

The additional work at the Arsenal will spread beyond the island, Peiffer said. A handful of local contracting firms were approached to help with the Humvee project and, because the truck cab armoring is on a larger scale, that will continue. "We will probably be upping the tempo," Peiffer said.

This is the second time in 10 years the Arsenal has built armor for five-ton trucks.

During the Bosnian war, the Arsenal equipped more than 225 trucks with armor to withstand the threat of landmines that were so prevalent in that eastern European country. This time, insurgents are using roadside bombs as well as other means to attack Americans.

Peiffer said Arsenal workers have been in a pre-production stage and anticipate starting metal work next week.

Ed Tibbetts can be contacted at (563) 383-2327 or etibbetts@qctimes.com.

 

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