General Dynamics To Acquire Force Protection

by: Matthew Potter
November 8, 2011

Category: Acquisitions, BAE Systems, Business Line, Companies, Countries, Department of Defense, England, Events, Force Protection, General Dynamics, logistics, Navistar, Oshkosh Truck Corp, production program, Restructuring, Services, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps | RSS 2.0

In a major shakeup of the U.S. armored vehicle industry General Dynamics (GD) announced late yesterday that it intends to acquire Force Protection (FRPT). GD is one of the largest defense contractors in the United States and makes a diverse product line including the Stryker wheeled combat vehicle, submarines, C4I systems and other defense related systems. Force Protection came to the fore in the middle part of the last decade as a successful provider of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles used by the U.S. and its Allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

GD will pay about $5.52 a share for the South Carolina based company for a total cost of around $360 million. The transaction still needs to go through all of the necessary shareholder and Government wickets but GD hopes to close it out by the end of 2011.

Force Protection is a good example of the boom-and-bust aspect of the defense industry. They were early producers of MRAP vehicles selling quite a few to select customers before in 2004-2005 Congress and the DoD decided to invest in thousands of the heavily armored vehicles. MRAP were seen as the best counter to the mine and Improvised Explosive Device (IED) threat in Iraq and Afghanistan that were causing hundreds of casualties among U.S. troops traveling in their support vehicles which tended not to be heavily armored.

MRAP were bought initially to equip engineering units responsible for removing these threats but then became standard tactical vehicles. Hundreds were purchased from a variety of suppliers including Force Protection, Navistar (NAV), BAE Systems (BAE:LSE) and other companies across the globe. Factories sprang up in South Carolina, Mississippi and other states to produce them. The U.S. used rapid acquisition to buy the MRAP, spares and logistical support and by 2007 deaths were much reduced.

Force Protection’s earnings and stock mirrored this boom going up to a high in 2008 in the mid-$20 range. Unfortunately at a certain point the U.S. had purchased all that it needed especially of the first generation MRAP and by the end of 2008 Force Protection was struggling to make a profit and its stock had dropped below $10.

The company did not win contracts for the new MRAP vehicle being purchased for Afghanistan losing out to Oshkosh (OSK) for the MRAP-ATV contract. It had bid on some other work like Australia’s and Canada’s new armored vehicles but those contracts are yet to be awarded. It did in 2010 win a contract to build vehicles for the U.K. worth a substantial amount.

The acquisition by GD reflects the changing market that currently exists. With defense cuts coming it will be hard for the U.S. to support multiple suppliers for this product. GD gains manufacturing capability and staff who will make money supporting their existing vehicles and will help GD with the design and production of new systems.

It can be expected that there will be an uptick in M&A with mid-level companies like this that will see limited markets. The U.S. Government has made clear that it is not in favor of the bigger defense contractors merging as happened in the Nineties but the cut backs will see many smaller corporations disappear either changing markets or being absorbed by their competitors.

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