WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (July 30, 2014) -- In an era of declining defense budgets, the Watervliet Arsenal needs contracts to produce more than just revenue. It needs the "right kind" of contracts to retain a critical skill base that is required to support large caliber manufacturing for the Defense Department and to allied militaries.

And so, when the arsenal announced this week that it had received 11 contracts this month worth more than $9.4 million, that news was met with controlled optimism. The contracts will provide the U.S. Army with spare parts for its 155mm howitzer and 81mm mortar systems, as well as for some limited work for the Naval Surface Warfare Center's 105mm cannon system.

"These contracts mean more to us than just money," said Jake Peart, the arsenal's chief of production planning and control. "In an era of declining defense weapons requirements, we view these contracts as a means to our retaining a critical skill base that will provide our warfighters with the best weapon systems in the world."

Given the continued uncertainty today with the defense budget, weapons program managers have been very cautious in soliciting new work and so, every new contract, no matter how small, is celebrated as a major achievement, Peart said.

Although these contracts will provide more than 21,000 hours of direct labor requirements, as well as hundreds of hours of indirect labor support, they still do not exercise all critical manufacturing skills the arsenal is trying to retain, Peart added.

"The importance of retaining our critical skill base cannot be overstated as each specialized manufacturing skill is essential to ensuring the long-term viability of the arsenal," Peart said.

The arsenal maintains 11 critical capabilities and/or skill sets that are required for the manufacturing of large caliber weapon systems. The manufacturing of tank and howitzer cannons exercises all 11 skills sets, that range from complex machining to rotary forging, while manufacturing spare parts and mortar tubes uses no more than seven of the 11 critical skills.

The arsenal's value to the Army is increased by the retention of these critical manufacturing skills that today cannot be replicated at any other government-owned and -operated facility.

So, although these orders are good news for Watervliet, they still fall short in retaining all the critical skills necessary to support the arsenal's core mission of providing large caliber manufacturing for the Defense Department. There is certainly more hard work to do this summer for the business development team at Watervliet in search of larger, more demanding orders.

The 11 orders range from the manufacturing of something as small that can fit into a pants pocket, such as a firing pin for a 155mm howitzer, to something as large as a carrier assembly that will hold a 155mm howitzer tube in place when the gun is fired. The first shipment will go out November 2014, and some contracts will require the arsenal to ship well into 2017.

With this announcement, the arsenal has in the last 45 days received more than $10.6 million in new orders.

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The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army-owned-and-operated manufacturing facility and is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States, having begun operations during the War of 1812. It celebrated its 200th anniversary in July 2013.

Today's arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and foreign militaries to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark has an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $90 million.

Page last updated Wed July 30th, 2014 at 00:00