LIMA, O. - General Dynamics' tank plant here will add 50 workers to help produce lighter armored vehicles with wheels that will serve as the backbone of a faster, more mobile, and quicker-reacting U.S. Army.
Production on components for the Light Armored Vehicle, dubbed the LAV-III, might start within five months. The Army, which has ordered 2,131 of the vehicles at a total cost of $4 billion, expects to receive the first 300 vehicles by October.
The Lima tank plant, which employs 480 hourly workers, will construct the upper body and a 105mm cannon for the LAV-III. The vehicle will weigh 19 tons, or less than a third of conventional tanks, and can be configured into a tank-like vehicle with a cannon, a personnel carrier, a reconnaissance vehicle, or a computer command center.
Other plants in the United States and Canada that will finish assembly of the vehicles are owned by the project's joint venture partners, General Dynamics' Land Systems Division and General Motors Corp.
Along with production of the light armored vehicle, the Allen County factory annually will continue to make about 120 specially-enhanced versions of the Abrams M1A2 tanks for the U.S. Army until 2003.
``It's been a real good Friday,'' said Jeff Monroe, president of United Auto Workers Local 2075 at the Lima plant.
``We don't know a whole lot. The only thing we know now is that it is an asset to the plant. It's another product line - and it gets our foot in the door for the Army's plan for transforming over to lighter vehicles.''
Heavy tanks have been the prime combat vehicle of the U.S. Army since shortly after World War I, and the 70-ton Abrams proved its superiority in the Persian Gulf War by routing enemy tanks in open combat.
But in recent years, especially in Kosovo, larger tanks proved to be harder to deploy and difficult to maneuver in heavily wooded terrain with narrow roads and light bridges.
As a result, Army officials have been rethinking the role of the tank and arguing for lighter wheeled vehicles that can be used in smaller conflicts or peacekeeping missions.
Lt. Gen. Paul Kern, military deputy to the Army's chief weapon buyer, said the LAV-III will make infantry units lighter, more mobile and better suited to expected military operations.
The vehicles, which will be produced through 2008 and be in use for 30 years, are built mainly with off-the-shelf technology. The four-wheel-drive vehicles can travel 62 mph and 312 miles without refueling and will be used to equip six new light armored brigades, said Peter Keating of General Dynamics.
Tentative plans call for Lima to make 11/2 vehicles a day on the same lines as the tanks, said Bruce Weinberg, plant production program manager. The plant produced two prototypes a few weeks ago.
General Motors has a contract to supply the light armored vehicles, earlier versions of which were used by the U.S. Marine Corp. and other nations. It is possible GM could hire the Lima plant to help fill those contracts, Mr. Weinberg said.
Besides the two tanks per week that plant workers make for the Army, the Lima factory is scheduled to start next year making chassis for 100 tanks ordered by Egypt. Also next year, the plant will make 12 mobile assault bridge vehicles, which are folding bridges atop a turret-less Abrams that are to help tanks cross rivers.