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Alliant Techsystems Faces Double Dose of Bad News

24 January – Updated to reflect the loss of the Lake City contract would be a blow to the company instead of “will be”.

Over the last ten years the U.S. military has consumed large amounts of ammunition. This includes not only small arms and support weapons like machine guns and mortars but also larger and more sophisticated weapons such as tank rounds, artillery shells, aerial bombs and guided missiles. Alliant Techsystems (ATK) has become one of the largest suppliers of ammunition and other pyrotechnics to the U.S. military during this time.

Up to last year they had contracts to run two of the largest government owned plants involved in this process — the one in Radford, VA that manufactures nitrocellulose used as the basis for ammunition as well as the one in Lake City, MO which makes small arms ammunition.

Last year the Army awarded the contract for Radford to BAE Systems (BAE:LSE) in the spring. Alliant protested that decision and the Army agreed to revise the competition and conduct another source selection. In October the new contract bids were received and again BAE won. Alliant protested that decision too.

Unfortunately the Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced today that it had denied that protest upholding the award to BAE. Alliant will lose a key contract that it had had since 1995. BAE’s 10 year initial contract also has multiple five year options that could make the contract last until 2036. The value could be well over a billion dollars if all options are exercised and production at Radford remains fairly steady.

Alliant will also face a challenge this year for the Lake City contract as BAE announced it will team with ammunition manufacturer Olin (OLN) to form a team to bid on that one. The Lake City contract could be worth up to $200 million a year to the winner. With the knowledge used for their successful Radford contract proposal BAE and Olin should have a good chance of winning the Lake City one as well.

The loss of these two contracts would be a hard blow to Alliant as they form a decent portion of their revenue each year. They have already seen declines in revenues the last few quarters and this would continue that negative trend. In 2011 their total sales to the U.S. Government, primarily ammunition and explosives, was about $3.3 billion. In their annual report the company stated that they “derived approximately 15% of our total fiscal
sales from the military small-caliber ammunition contract at Lake City”. The loss could be made up if their were other contracts to win or demand for their other products would increase. Unfortunately with the fighting winding down in Afghanistan and budget cuts predicted this might be hard.

Alliant may have recognized that the future might get tough as they moved their headquarters from Minnesota to the Washington D.C. area. In this they followed Northrop Grumman (NOC) which left California. It places them nearer Congress and the Pentagon and will facilitate engagement. This should aid them in keeping work and perhaps gaining new efforts.

All defense contractors no matter what the size are facing the same problems that Alliant is. Cost pressure on the Defense Department will make them look at new providers who may offer the best price meaning contracts will be harder to keep. There will also be less contracts due to the retrenchment from the recent fighting and budget cuts. If the 1990′s when a similar decline in defense spending is a guide then some contractors will have to adjust or face converting to new markets or just merging with other companies.

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U.S. Army Explosives Production Contract Protested by Alliant Techsystems

Since the Nineties and the downsizing of the U.S. defense establishment due to the end of the Cold War the Department of Defense has leased its ammo production facilities to a variety of defense companies. Then they have awarded contracts for the delivery of small arms, artillery and other ammunition. With the fighting since 9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan there has been substantial investment in these types of products as the U.S. military has consumed large amounts of small arm ammo and those for supporting weapons such as the 30mm cannon on the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.

Alliant Techsystems (ATK) has been one of the major suppliers of ammunition and pyrotechnics for the U.S. military over the last decade. The company is a leading manufacturer of small arms rounds as well as larger artillery rounds, missiles and rocket engines. They have been able to operate two of the major production plants owned by the Government for several years. These are the ones in Radford, VA and Independence, MO.

Now the Army has awarded the contract to run the Radford plant to BAE Systems (BAE:LSE). It is estimated the contract will have a value of over $800 million during its ten year duration. Alliant has filed a protest with the Government over the award. Normally the Government Accountability Office (GAO) will resolve the protest within 100 days. The contract does not start until September so Alliant will continue running the plant until then pending the review of the protest.

If the GAO finds that there were irregularities in the award to BAE they may order a new competition, ask the Army to review how their source selection was conducted or even give the contract to Alliant. Most protests are denied and Alliant will have to hope that the Army did not carry out their source selection properly in order to get a ruling in their favor.

As the U.S. defense budget begins to decline and troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan demands for certain products like ammo and explosives will also be reduced. This means that locking in contracts now at the beginning of this process is very important. Alliant relies on this work for a large portion of their revenue and earnings. Losing the contracts will have an impact on their long term prospects and force them to try to expand their other product lines or look for new markets.

Photo from Yarden Sach’s flickr photostream.

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All Good Things Must Come to An End: Boeing Begins Winding Down C-17 Workforce

The Boeing (BA) C-17 Globemaster III has been one of the most successful military transport aircraft of recent time. Originally designed and manufactured by McDonnell Douglas in the early Nineties as a replacement for the C-141 Cold War era aircraft when Boeing merged with the California aerospace giant they took over production of this key aircraft. The U.S. Air Force has taken delivery of over 200 C-17 and there are several more in production at the Long Beach facility.

Unfortunately one of the areas that the Obama Administration targeted for cuts as part of their defense spending reforms was the C-17 program. They were not the first to do this as the Air Force had an acquisition objective of less then 200. Congress against the wishes of different defense secretaries consistently added C-17 aircraft production and support to the budget to get to the current planned quantity of around 220. Critics said this was only due to the fact that up to 50,000 people worked on the program across the United States and the additional aircraft were pure pork. Supporters countered that strategic airlift was critical to support U.S. operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and world wide.

This was continued in the 2009 defense supplemental and 2010 budget but with the 2011 budget this ended. There were no more C-17 aircraft to be ordered by the U.S. military.

Boeing has been able to sell the aircraft to some overseas customers. Currently the aircraft is operated by the United Kingdom, Australia, NATO and Qatar. The United Arab Emirates has entered into a contract to buy six aircraft and Kuwait one. India is considering the aircraft to supplement its fleet of Russian made IL-76 transports but right now that is the only major contract pending.

Because the future number of aircraft is limited right now Boeing announced yesterday that over one thousand employees would begin losing their jobs. Workers in Long Beach; St. Louis; Mesa, Arizona and Macon, Georgia will be affected.

In their press release Boeing said: “as the company moves to a new production rate of 10 C-17s per year. Boeing will reduce the production program’s work force by approximately 1,100 jobs through the end of 2012. The company delivered 14 C-17s in 2010.

The move to the new production rate, announced in February 2010, will be completed this summer and result in the elimination of the second shift at the C-17 final assembly facility in Long Beach. The lower production rate is designed to extend the line as Boeing works to capture additional international orders.”

Boeing hopes that new orders will materialize while they slow the production line down to continue it for several months. If the orders do occur they can adjust the speed of line to meet their obligations. If they do not the production rate will slow to zero and thousands more workers will lose their jobs.

Boeing has made it clear in the past that the Long Beach plant which is a legacy of McDonnell Douglas will be closed and not transferred to other Boeing aircraft projects.

All military acquisition programs have a definitive objective for how many systems will be purchased. The C-17 is no different then any other and eventually that number would be reached. Then production will stop.

Without any new major transport program on the horizon for at least the next several years there is no new system for Boeing to bid on and utilize their work force and production capacity.

The C-17 will remain a key system for the Air Force and Boeing will continue some business supporting it but large scale production is finished.

Photo from tony.evans flickr photostream

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Defense Department Reiterates Stand on C-17 Production

The C-17 transport has been in production now for almost twenty years and forms the backbone of the U.S. Air Force’s strategic lift. It replaced the Cold War era C-141 aircraft and has been built by Boeing (CA) at their plants in Long Beach, CA and St. Louis, MO. The Air Force actually possesses more C-17′s then originally planned because Congress has been adding them to the budget for the last few years. In 2010 the new Obama Administration did not request any further production of the system but Congress added them and the President did not follow through with a veto.

The 2011 defense budget also contained no C-17 procurement and this has been met with a better reception by Congress in general. There are still those Senators and Representatives from California, Missouri and Kansas who would like to see more aircraft built. They are certainly being used, but the Air Force and DoD argue that the money could be spent on more important parts of the defense budget. There are also concerns that when the Congress adds aircraft they do not necessarily fund the support which takes money out of the budget as well.

The Long Beach plant will close when production of the aircraft ends which would be a big blow to the local economy.

Despite Congress’ better attitude this year the Department must have some concerns as they released a strongly worded article yesterday detailing the reasons why no more aircraft are needed. This reads in part “..defense officials agreed with the subcommittee’s leaders, Sens. Thomas Carper and John McCain, that the C-17, in addition to the C-5, has been critical to airlift in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. However, they said, the military’s current fleet of 223 C-17s and 111 C-5s is more than enough airlift capability for years to come.” It also contains a threat as last year that the President “.. has promised to veto any legislation that provides for more C-17s.”.

Does that mean there will be no more U.S. orders for the C-17? It might, and it might not. Congress is loathe to end programs like this that are not only successful, used and provide several hundred jobs across the U.S. Boeing certainly would like to keep the line going. The defense budget looks like it may make it to the floor of the Senate and House without C-17. That allows floor amendments and the conference committee to add the transports. If the Congressional leadership is disciplined it may end up without additions.

The other concern is how well Congress believes Obama will veto the bill over a few billion spent on the C-17. If they don’t think he will in the end as happened last year then the aircraft quantity may increase.

Photo from TMWolf Flickr photostream.

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Australia’s First F/A-18 Delivered

Boeing delivered the first F/A-18 Super Hornet for Australia on July 8. This is the first of twenty-four. The aircraft will provide a stop gap until either the F-35 JSF or the F-22 aircraft Australia has expressed interest in buying. The total value of the contract to Boeing is about $3 billion.

The F-18 for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps is facing the end of production as the Obama Administration has proposed accelerating deliveries of the F-35 for those services as well as the U.S. Air Force. This is tied in to the ending of F-22 production. Congress has not received these proposals well and have included continued F-22 deliveries in the appropriation and authorization bills working their way through both Houses. The House has also looked at increasing planned F-18 deliveries as well as exploring the award of another multi-year production contract. Multi-year contracts have to be specifically authorized and have been used for large aircraft contracts in a bid to keep overall costs down. If there is a consistent buy profile over several years it makes it easier for the contractors to manage supplies and material ideally reducing costs.

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