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Leaders, experts gather at Watervliet to develop strategy for enhancing capacity

Arsenal Commander Col. Joseph Morrow, right, briefs Brig. Gen. Alfred Abramson, deputy program executive officer for ammunition and senior commander at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.

A 120mm preform barrel was just taken out of the furnace at nearly 2,000 degrees en route to the rotary forge on April 18, 2017.

WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. – During a critical time in the early stages of sequestration in 2014, the Watervliet Arsenal hosted a workload summit with senior leadership and subject matter experts from the Army’s logistics fields to develop a strategy that would ensure the arsenal would remain relevant and well-postured to support the future Army.

That 2014 summit occurred at a pivotal point in time for the long-term survival of the arsenal given that sequestration, which is a provision of the Budget Control Act of 2011, had recently effected across-the-board cuts in defense spending -- cuts that had weapon program managers reducing their orders for arsenal products.

Fast forward to today and it may be amazing for some to see how time has once again healed the painful effects of the ebbs and flows of defense requirements at the Army’s oldest, continually operating arsenal. After all, since the War of 1812 the arsenal has weathered countless reductions of wartime requirements as the national debate over guns versus butter surfaces. This time would be no different.

The arsenal hosted another gathering on April 18 and 19, but with an entirely different focus than in 2014. Nearly 30 Army senior leaders and defense weapon program experts convened at the arsenal to develop a strategy to enhance the arsenal’s critical capabilities and capacity to accommodate a dramatic increase in workload.

In just the first six months of this fiscal year, the arsenal has attained its projected volume of future contracts that leadership had planned, said Joseph Turcotte, the arsenal’s deputy commander. Since October, the arsenal has received more than $100 million in new contracts with the bulk of the deliveries occurring in fiscal years 2018 to 2020.

“Unlike dealing with the challenges that sequestration brought us in the early years, this is a good problem to have,” Turcotte said. “And so, we aren’t complaining but we do need to get with our military customers to ensure that we have realistic expectations for future deliverables.”

Arsenal commander Col. Joseph Morrow set the stage as the group listened to him tout the arsenal’s history and its status as the Defense Department’s only large caliber manufacturer.

“The orders have been coming in so fast that we need to make changes now to our workforce and to our facility to accommodate a large volume of deliverables that are due in the next three to four years,” Morrow said. “When it takes four years to grow an apprentice into a machinist, and two or more years to bring on new machinery, we have to make decisions now to shape our environment for the out years. And that is why this week’s gathering is so important.”

The bottom line, Morrow said, is this gathering of Army leaders and logistic subject matter experts looked at possible solutions to the challenges of growing the arsenal’s capability and capacity in order to meet future requirements in an unpredictable environment.

The defense environment remains unpredictable due to sequestration. Nevertheless, sequestration is just one of countless reminders of what can happen to the defense industrial base when wars end. The challenge this time, however, is that U.S. troops are still serving in areas of combat, armed with arsenal products, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Over the course of two days, the leaders and experts reached a consensus -- the arsenal is so critical to Army readiness that it must have investment now to enhance its cannon-making capability and capacity for the future.

Among the senior Army leaders who participated in the two-day gathering were Maj. Gen. Clark W. LeMasters Jr., TACOM LCMC commanding general; Maj. Gen. David G. Bassett, program executive officer for ground combat systems; and Brig. Gen. Alfred F. Abramson III, deputy program executive officer for ammunition and senior commander at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey.
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