WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (March 18, 2013)-- The Arsenal announced this week that it has completed its first shipment of 19 M20A1 Breech Block Kits, as part of a $22.6 million contract for the U.S. Army to upgrade the M119A2 105mm howitzer."This order is one of the largest contracts the arsenal has and it involves more than 61,000 hours of direct labor," said George Roach, the Arsenal program manager for this order. "This first shipment will end up in the hands of artillerymen at Fort Bragg, N.C."The scope of this order is to manufacture more than 650 upgrade kits with monthly shipments of the kits to continue through August 2015, said Roach."Although the order was received in 2011, it took a significant amount of lead time to purchase raw material, design fixtures and gauges, and for the customer to conduct testing prior to going into full production," said Roach. "This was no easy project and it took the entire Arsenal, from contracting to our friends at the Army's Benét Laboratories, to make this shipment on time."WHY A REDESIGN?In 1987, an agreement was reached with the British Royal Ordnance Factories to produce the M119 howitzer to replace the M102 howitzer. It entered service with the U.S. Army's 7th Infantry Division in December 1989.Several years ago, Benét Labs discovered a wear-driven, safety-related flaw in the British design, albeit one that did not put Soldiers at immediate risk. This finding was significant enough, however, to effect a change to the technical manual that required artillery crewmen to verify and measure the firing pin protrusion before every live firing, said Jeanne Brooks, a Benét Labs mechanical engineer.The breech block improvements under this new modification will reduce the number of breech block assembly parts by 30 percent, which reduces the logistical footprint and maintenance time. Additionally, the new breech block was optimized for wear resistance, which directly improves the historical firing pin protrusion issues we set out to correct, Brooks said.Although the Arsenal's business model has changed in recent years from a focus on cannon production to the production of mortars, non-tube manufacturing, such as with the M20A1 breech blocks, greatly helps the arsenal to maintain a steady workload, said Roach.The M20A1 breech blocks carry the firing mechanism and close the breech end of a 105mm cannon when firing. They are, as are the cannon tubes, high-pressure vessels that are machined to extremely tight tolerances that are measured in thousandths of an inch.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 will celebrate its 200th anniversary this July.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 $100 million.