WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (February 2018) -- The U.S. Army has awarded the Watervliet Arsenal a $13.5 million contract to upgrade 400 Paladin self-propelled howitzer systems with a modified breech kit that will improve Soldiers' safety and artillery range.

The order, which involves such parts as firing block assemblies, firing pins, and firing mechanisms, will generate more than 30,000 hours of direct labor, as well as thousands of hours of indirect labor. Shipments will begin in April 2019 and will be complete by March 2020.

"This multimillion-dollar order adds to an exceptional year of contract growth that will directly support U.S. Soldiers for years to come," said Joseph Turcotte, the Arsenal's deputy commander. "And with this order, the Arsenal now has added nearly $90 million in new contracts in just the first five months of this fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, 2017."

Although the Paladin 155mm self-propelled howitzer system has undergone several modifications since it was fielded to U.S. forces nearly 50 years ago, this is the first time in decades the Arsenal has upgraded the breech components of the howitzer, said Diane Nelson, the Arsenal's project manager for this order. In an effort to increase the range of the Paladin howitzer, the Arsenal began working with the Army's Benét Laboratories in 2014 to redesign the weapon's breech components to better support improved munitions. Benét Labs is located on the Arsenal.

What may have expedited this contract, however, was a 2017 report from the Defense Department's Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, that claimed the testing of enhanced munitions in October 2016 caused failures in breech components, which affected the health of Soldiers by exposing them to toxic fumes.

These enhanced munitions were being tested in an effort to field a modified charge that would extend the firing range of the howitzer. Long ranges are needed because most threat countries have artillery ranges longer than 17 kilometers, and the extended range is required by the Army to avoid enemy counterfire.

Scott Huber, an Arsenal general foreman, said that the Arsenal team treated this effort as an urgency needs requirement because it impacted the health and safety of Soldiers.

"When we began working with Benét Laboratories, we knew we had to move fast due the Army's urgent need to safely extend the range of artillery systems," Huber said. "Thanks to our decades of experience working on similar howitzer breech components, the modification and testing went extremely fast and we were able to field an approved modification in months versus years."

Despite the Arsenal's history with similar components, Huber said that the contract's components will be more difficult to machine.

"When you work in hundredths of thousandths of an inch tolerances, nothing is easy," Huber said. "With this order, the tolerances are even tighter and the materiel is stronger than conventional breech components. Nevertheless, this is a challenge we like because it will not only make us better machinists, it will also make our Soldiers more safe."

Nelson added that this type of work exemplifies the value of the Arsenal being an Army-owned and operated facility. Unlike the development of future weapon systems that may take years to test and field, any modifications to currently fielded weapon systems can happen quickly, especially if Soldiers' safety is at risk, when the Army owns the manufacturing center.

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 on July 14, 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 had revenue in fiscal year 2017 that exceeded $125 million and provides an annual economic benefit to the local community of nearly $100 million.