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Column: Arsenal role in defense grows

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This year, the Rock Island Arsenal turns 160 years old, meaning the Quad-Cities has played a vital role in defense manufacturing for more than a century and a half. In this time, the Arsenal has adapted. From its beginning as a prison camp to transitioning to manufacturing rifles to making howitzers, the Arsenal has played a critical role in supporting the men and women who serve our nation.

As of this month, that role just got bigger.

Nearly $70 million in federal funding for research, development and manufacturing is headed to the Quad-Cities and the Rock Island Arsenal, secured in a major funding package that was just passed out of Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden.

These investments in our community will ensure that the Rock Island Arsenal remains strong for years to come. It ensures that consistent work will flow to the Island, maintaining jobs and an appealing draw for private sector companies interested in partnering with the facility.

Why am I so confident? In 2019, the Army released a modernization strategy, laying out steps to become a truly 21st century branch of the military. In that document, the Army identifies six modernization priorities, including the “Next Generation of Combat Vehicles,” “Long Range Precision Fires” and “Soldier Lethality.”

Those are all complicated ways of saying that the Army is focused on forward-thinking technologies that work efficiently and effectively to save lives and better protect our country.

And that’s exactly what this funding is directed toward.

For example, at the Rock Island Arsenal’s Center of Excellence for Additive and Advanced Manufacturing, they’re doing groundbreaking research to develop jointless hulls for the Next Generation Combat Vehicle. With a $15 million investment I secured to support manufacturing prototyping in the recent package, the Arsenal will be able to continue its work to develop combat vehicles without joints to eliminate weaknesses and vulnerabilities in our current fleet. During the last several years, I’ve been proud to deliver $45 million to support this project in the Quad-Cities.

This project will also be carried out with what is soon to be the world’s largest metal 3D printer, which is currently being built in Rockford, Ill., at Ingersoll Machine Tools.

Additionally, with $15 million in new funding, the Rock Island Arsenal will be partnering with Applied Research Associates and the University of Arkansas on a new initiative to develop large-scale 3D printing solutions that can be deployed in the field. This project could lead to our military building major infrastructure, such as bridges and roads, autonomously through 3D printing.

And it’s not just the Arsenal putting the Quad-Cities on the manufacturing modernization map. The Quad-City Manufacturing Lab and Western Illinois University have been partnering to develop lighter-weight body armor for U.S. service members. In the recent funding package, I was proud to secure $10 million to bolster this research at the Quad-City Manufacturing Lab. Their research to strengthen armor while also making it easier to wear will literally save lives.

Meanwhile, the Mandus Group in Rock Island has been working for years on ways to outfit lightweight combat vehicles with heavy artillery, with the goal of making firing faster and more accurate. With $25 million in new funding passed last week, they’ll be equipped to continue their work with the Rock Island Arsenal to develop and prove out their soft recoil technology. In total, I’ve helped secure $60 million for this technology.

It’s not all manufacturing, either. In the recent funding package, I secured an additional $5 million for a project between PPG and the Rock Island Arsenal to develop and test new coatings that prevent corrosion and enhance the longevity of military equipment. This amounts to $15 million secured for this project since 2020.

These significant federal resources headed to the Quad-Cities will fund groundbreaking projects, expand opportunities in the region and help to provide consistent work for years to come at the Rock Island Arsenal.

As they work to develop new tools to ensure that our men and women in uniform are the best-equipped in the world, the Quad-Cities and the Rock Island Arsenal are leading the way in modernizing our nation’s defenses and our competitive edge.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, represents the 17th congressional district, which includes the Quad-Cities.

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