Defense contractor General Dynamics Land Systems, which has a public-private partnership with the depot, announced that the U.S. Army had awarded it a contract to upgrade 66 Stryker combat vehicles with more protection. The project, which will last through February 2015, will preserve the employment of 80 workers at General Dynamics — a company that has had many layoffs in the past year due to the drawdown of the Afghanistan war.
Without the contract, said General Dynamics spokesman Peter Keating, “there would have been some layoffs."
General Dynamics employs more than 300 people in Anniston.
Under the contract’s terms, General Dynamics, which builds and repairs combat vehicles, will convert 66 flat-bottom Stryker infantry combat vehicles to Double V Hull models with improved suspension systems, Keating said. The Double V Hull model has been shown to offer more protection from improvised explosive devices.
Keating said he did not know how the Army will use the upgraded vehicles.
"They'll go to the Army fleet and where their assignment is dependent on the Army," he said.
According to a press release issued by the Army today, the Stryker contract could be the first of several General Dynamics receives in the next few years. The press release states the Army is interested in upgrading an entire brigade of Strykers, which would equate to more than 300 vehicles.
General Dynamics first began upgrading Strykers in 2012 through a pilot program called Stryker Exchange. In addition to being safer, the upgrade process is also cheaper than just building a new Double V body Stryker. A new Stryker costs about $2.4 million to build while the upgrade process costs about $1.6 million per vehicle.
Keating said General Dynamics is in line to receive additional Stryker upgrade work through the next three years.
"But it will be dependent on Army funding on how many vehicles they buy each year," Keating said.
Despite receiving Stryker work, General Dynamics has faced layoffs due to the drawdown of first the Iraq War and then the Afghanistan War. Keating said the company laid off more than 100 Anniston employees between January and June.
The layoffs are part of a trend in the defense industry. The depot laid off 371 employees at the end of March due to budget cuts. The area's dependence on the defense industry has led to slow economic recovery and relatively high unemployment in recent years.
Nathan Hill, military liaison for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, said the latest Stryker contract will be good for the area.
"It means good business for the depot and General Dynamics," Hill said.
Hill said the Stryker is particularly good for the depot in the long term due to its proven dependability in the field.
"The Stryker is a viable, war-proven vehicle," Hill said. "It appears to be the vehicle of choice for the Army in the future ... and the depot is right in the middle of that since it is doing the refurbishing of it."
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.