By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneNovember 16, 2010
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Standing over in a corner during the fanfare surrounding the recent opening of a new repair facility and machine shop on Redstone Arsenal, four machinists quietly talked about a product that has made a dramatic difference for the Army's war fighters.
Ryan Stewart, Ben Rice, Brett Lewis and Tim Simmons, who work for the Aviation and Missile Command's Maintenance Operations Procedures and Prototype facility (MOPP Shop), all had a hand in developing an idea to mount the M3P .50-caliber machine gun on a OH-58D Kiowa Warrior platform.
"We are proud that we could provide a useful solution to a problem," Rice said.
That useful solution has gone on to create an entire product line for the Kiowa's M3P mount system at Redstone. On Nov. 2, the MOPP Shop, which is part of the Aviation and Missile Command's Integrated Materiel Management Center, celebrated the opening of the M3P Machine Gun Repair Facility and Machine Shop with a ribbon cutting and open house.
The unique matchup of the Kiowa helicopter with the M3P machine gun, which has also long been a staple of the Army's Avenger air defense system, was determined a good solution when, in 2008, the Army came looking for a quick replacement for the Kiowa's existing machine gun. The M3P, with its 1,100-round-per-minute rate of fire and ability to penetrate lightly armored vehicles and an effective range of 1,500 meters, was chosen as the best machine gun replacement by the Kiowa product office.
"This is a Team Redstone success story," said Richard Paul, director of the System Sustainment Directorate of IMMC. "It is a combined effort of the Program Executive Office for Aviation, the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space, the Integrated Materiel Management Center, the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, and the Redstone Test Center.
"It's a success story in delivering a new and improved war-fighting capability to the Kiowa Warrior helicopter."
In 2008, the Army deemed the Kiowa's existing machine gun as "unreliable and unsuitable for the mission," Paul said. "Team Redstone championed the M3P as the best choice. After engineering, integration and qualification testing, it became the primary weapon for the Kiowa Warrior."
The MOPP Shop solution responded to two Operational Needs Statements from theater -- a lightweight, reliable gun system with a level of lethality greater than or equal to the helicopter's previous XM296 machine gun and a machine gun more suited for close fighting situations encountered in urban environments - by designing and prototyping a mounting system for the M3P machine gun.
"We were presented with a problem and we came up with the best viable solution. Other industry tried to compete. But we had the most cost effective product," Stewart said.
"We used Avenger technology and incorporated it over to the Kiowa, we used a machine gun already in the Army inventory and we designed a lightweight mount," Rice added.
The MOPP Shop beat out two industry competitors with their design.
"Some of the mounts designed took 30 minutes to get the gun off. Ours only took 30 seconds," Simmons said. "And we beat them in weight with a simpler design."
For the machinists, making and fielding the first 10 mounts in 2008 was a milestone for the fledging program.
"We worked some long days," Simmons said. "We worked 12- and 16-hour days to get 10 mounts out in a short period of time."
Today, 185 Kiowa helicopters are equipped with M3P machine guns, which is about half of the Army's full Kiowa fleet. As more Kiowas are equipped with M3Ps, the four machinists are working on second and third revisions of the initial prototype.
"We are now prototyping something that will work even better for the entire fleet," Stewart said. "There's a wide range of differences in angles on the pylons within the Kiowa fleet that the mount is attached to, and we are working on a prototype that will fit that wide range."
Today, 17 MOPP Shop employees work in the new facility, building 3778 located near the MOPP Shop just off Patton Road in the northeastern section of the Arsenal. The 5,400-square-foot facility valued at $750,000 includes prototyping, rebuilding and testing capabilities for both the machine gun and the mount, said Dallas Trammell, M3P product lead.
"We are doing about 10 a month on mount resets," said Ron Bridges, who manages tactical missile development for Kratos/Madison Research, the prime contractor for the M3P product line.
"On the M3P, we rebuild, reset and repair about 20 to 30 guns a month. In October, we even exceeded that number. We can increase our work as needed. This facility gives us expanded capability."
Besides the M3P guns for the Kiowas, the new facility also does rebuild, reset and repair for M3Ps used on Avenger air defense systems. Future plans include expanding the customer base to include support to National Guard units.
With the use of the M3P now on both the Kiowa and Avenger, and with the up-tempo caused by wartime conditions, there has been an increase in demand for the M3P along with replacement parts and repair.
"By opening this new facility, we are confident that we can address these new maintenance requirements and ensure a high level of capability," Paul said.
Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers, commander of AMCOM, said Soldiers he talked with at the recent Washington, D.C. annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army were grateful for the M3P capability on the Kiowa.
"This is indicative of what we do here at Team Redstone," Rogers said of the new facility's capability in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. "The war fighters from Afghanistan told me they love the M3P on the Kiowa and they thanked us. That alone is enough for me."
M3P technology heralds back to World War I, when its basic design was first used in the M2 machine gun, Bridges said. The basic design was also the basis for the AN/M3s machine gun used in the B-51, B-17, B-24 and B-25.
"We have 400 AN/M3s from the Korean War that we can take parts out of and use in the M3P," Bridges said. "So, we are using Korean War parts in 2010 guns and we can do that because the basic gun is the same."
During the ribbon cutting event, Rogers introduced himself to the M3P employees.
He thanked them for their work, telling them "we appreciate what you all are doing. It makes a difference. It really does."