Region & State

Camden-made rocket launcher, missiles changing Ukraine conflict

By WESLEY BROWN | Arkansas Advocate

A new Pentagon contract that is part of President Joe Biden’s most recent Ukraine security package will increase production of Arkansas-made rocket launchers and precision-guided missiles at Lockheed Martin’s sprawling manufacturing campus in East Camden.

The $430.9 million Pentagon contract awarded on Dec. 2 will ramp up production of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) M142 launchers that have become a game changer in the Ukraine conflict, U.S. Army spokesman Darrell Ames told the Arkansas Advocate.

U.S. Army Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 14 Field Artillery, 214th Fires Brigade form a line to transport their M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System vehicles after successfully firing 12 rockets, March 6, 2015. HIMARS are used to rapidly deploy and concentrate high volumes of lethal fire on enemy targets at long ranges. | U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nathan Clark/Released

 “The Department (of Defense) continues to focus on accelerating contracting actions and providing a persistent demand signal to our partners in industry,” William LaPlante, undersecretary for DoD’s acquisition and sustainment operations, said in a news release. “This award is another example of the steps we are taking to replenish stockpiles and strengthen the industrial base.”

The new contract follows an August visit by Pentagon officials to the 2 million-square-foot military-industrial complex in Calhoun County during which officials credited workers at the nearly 2,500-acre Missiles & Fire Control manufacturing facility with helping to alter the Ukraine-Russia battlefront.

According to Ames, the HIMARS system is a combat-proven, all-weather, wheeled, precision-strike weapons system that is transportable by air and can launch multiple warheads accurately at its targets. The new contract calls for full-rate production of four HIMARS launchers and 18 M777 howitzers headed for Ukraine. It will also allow the U.S. government to rapidly replenish U.S. military stockpiles and support American allies and partners.

In tandem with the HIMARS mobile rocket launcher, Lockheed workers in south Arkansas also produce the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) that includes a variety of rockets and missiles that can accurately hit strategic military targets up to 50 miles away. Besides being compatible with GMLRS, the HIMARS system can also launch other warheads in the U.S. Army tactical missile arsenal. 

“The contract will also procure 18 Ukrainian Security Assistance Initiative and eight Foreign Military Sales launchers upon future modification,” said Ames. “To date, the Presidential Drawdown has provided 20 (HIMARS) launchers to support Ukraine at a cost of $130.5 million.”

HIMARS and GMLRS stockpiles

Tom Karako, an expert in defensive and offensive military weapons, said the made-in-Arkansas mobile launchers and missiles are putting Russian forces on the defensive. Karako is a senior fellow with Harvard University’s International Security Program and the director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a bipartisan Washington, D.C.-based national security and defense industry think tank.

The CSIS military analyst told the Arkansas Advocate that Congress recently gave multiple-year procurement authority to the Pentagon to replenish DoD stockpiles for the U.S. military and key U.S. partners and allies. That authorization is rare, he said.

“It’s a new thing and signals an intent on the part of the Pentagon and Congress that they recognize they are going to need a lot of these (weapons),” Karako said. “GMLRS were one of the big buys that they anticipate they are going to do a lot more of.”

Korako said Lockheed’s launcher and missile system are valuable in Ukraine for three reasons: “mobility, reliability, and precision.”

“It is the ‘G’ in GMLRS that means ‘guided,’ which gives it precision. And if I am not mistaken, the ‘M’ in HIMARS means mobility,” he said. “Why does that matter? Because you can move it around and avoid getting shot back at.”

“So, the combination of those characteristics … Has allowed a relatively small number of HIMARS launchers to wreak (havoc) with devastating effect on their Russian invaders,” Karako said. “The demand signal for what is being produced in Arkansas is skyrocketing. Camden and the production facility there have a special value to the U.S. and allies.”

The defense expert noted that the most recent U.S. Army contracts for HIMARS and GMLRS are close to $1 billion. The Pentagon would likely be ordering “quite a bit more” as the Ukraine conflict extends into the future, he said.

According to Lockheed spokeswoman Christian Vite, the Pentagon’s LaPlante led a large delegation of DoD and U.S. Army officials to south Arkansas on Aug. 25 to review production of rocket launcher and defense weapon systems in person. In a seven-minute video provided by Lockheed officials of the Pentagon delegation’s Arkansas visit, a top executive in the company’s M&FC division praised the more than 1,000 workers at the Camden industrial site.

“We had an opportunity to give them a small taste of the tremendous work that is done here at this facility,” said Michael Williamson, vice president of Lockheed’s M&FC operations. “And I think hopefully they’ve also had a chance to see the dedicated team that produces systems today that, quite frankly, are making a difference not only for (NATO) partners, but it also helps our own nation in being prepared for any future conflict.”  

With Russia’s unrelenting missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian critical energy infrastructure, additional air defense capabilities remain an urgent priority, Pentagon officials shared. The other munitions for surface-to-air missiles and heavy machine guns will help Ukraine counter these urgent threats.

“With HIMARS, one of the weapon systems that are produced here in Camden, is proving to be one of the most effective capabilities provided to Ukraine thus far,” LaPlante said during his south Arkansas visit. “We’ve seen them deploy the HIMARS and weapons of GLMRS with a great degree of skill and precision.

“For the workers here building HIMARs munitions, you are the backbone of America’s industrial base.”

Details provided by the Pentagon outlining Biden’s authorization of Ukraine security assistance show there have been 26 drawdowns of military equipment and munitions from U.S. military stockpiles since August 2021. Altogether, the U.S. has committed more than $19.7 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration. Over $19 billion came after Russia’s unprovoked invasion of the eastern European nation on Feb. 24.

Pentagon deal pipeline

During Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s eight years in office, his administration made pursuing higher-paying defense industry jobs a major economic development priority.

Only weeks after taking office in 2015, Lockheed officials announced that the company’s industrial Camden site was a finalist for the U.S. Army’s $30 billion Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) contract.

As a part of the state’s incentive-laden bid to win the blockbuster Pentagon award, Hutchinson called a special legislative session in May 2015 to garner support from state lawmakers for an $87 million bond financing package.

Months later, the Defense Department awarded the vehicle contract for 55,000 new JLTVs to Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Corp. The state-of-the-art JLTV is now the U.S. Army and Marine Corps’ light-armored successor to the original Jeep and bulkier Humvee.

Despite losing the JLTV contract, Hutchinson has still inked several key deals to bolster south Arkansas as a global defense center. Hutchinson and Arkansas Department of Commerce Secretary Mike Preston have also led a trade delegation to every Paris Air Show since taking office. That weeklong trade show is the world’s largest aerospace industry exhibition event held every odd-numbered year in the French capital.

In 2019, Lockheed and Hutchinson returned from Paris with a $142 million deal that Lockheed was expanding its industrial facilities in Camden. A week later, Lockheed announced a $600 million, two-year contract to manufacture MGM-14O Tactical Missile System missiles in Camden for the U.S. Army and foreign allies.

The nearly 1,100 Lockheed workers at the Highland Industrial Park in East Camden also produce Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), the nation’s anti-ballistic, shoot-to-kill defense system designed to intercept warheads. 

Highland is an 18,780-acre complex with 5.4 million square feet of industrial and warehouse facilities providing specialized space to defense, arms, aerospace/aviation, technology, and telecom companies.

In May, the Hutchinson administration also announced that Lockheed and Airbus plan to locate an aerial refueling boom system for the U.S. Air Force’s LMXT strategic tanker aircraft in western Arkansas. Introduced in September 2021, the LMXT is produced as an A330 airliner by Airbus in Mobile, Ala., home to the European defense giant’s U.S.-based commercial airline manufacturing operations.

The second phase of the manufacturing process includes converting the commercial aircraft into the LMXT tanker at Lockheed’s factory in Marietta, Ga. Integration of the Arkansas-built fuel tanker will be included in Phase 2 of the assembly process, officials said.

“Arkansas has the tools in place to help high-tech manufacturing succeed, and I’m pleased that Lockheed Martin and Airbus see themselves growing here in our state as they look to the future in the defense industry,” Hutchinson said in late May after the Lockheed-Airbus announcement.

Hutchinson’s deal pipeline in south Arkansas has also included binding agreements with Aerojet Rocketdyne, American Rheinmetall Munition Inc., and Raytheon Missile. For example, Sacramento-based Aerojet moved its engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) headquarters to Camden in 2020. Those operations include a new “casting bell” facility to manufacture large solid rocket motors for hypersonic warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Incentive packages

During Hutchinson’s tenure, Lockheed has received seven years of the state’s Create Rebate Program and four years of ArkPlus Program for their 2019 expansion project, state Economic Development Commission (AEDC) spokeswoman Chelsea O’ Kelley said.

Under AEDC’s incentive portfolio, the Create Rebate program offers qualified businesses a financial credit equal to 3.9% to 5% of the annual payroll of new full-time permanent employees. ArkPlus is a state income tax credit that exempts 10% of the total investment in a new location or expansion project. This incentive requires a minimum investment and payroll for new, full-time, permanent employees hired for a specific project.

Lockheed also received $3.5 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for a project in 2010. Those payouts concluded in 2016, said O’Kelley.

Categories: Region & State

Tagged as: