BAE's Army Vehicle Production to Be Inspected by Service Chief

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Army Secretary Mark Esper will visit BAE Systems Plc’s major military vehicle plant next month to review deficient welding operations and discuss progress toward correcting management issues that have hampered production of the service’s new self-propelled howitzer.

“I want to go up and spend time on the ground” at the York, Pennsylvania, facility because “there are a number of programs that happen” there, Esper said Wednesday at a breakfast meeting of the Defense Writers Group in Washington. BAE “has been a good partner but we’re going to hold them to account,” Esper said. “I always get the best information when I go out and travel.”

Bloomberg News disclosed in July that the Army delayed approving full-scale production of London-based BAE’s new self-propelled howitzer, citing the need to improve quality before proceeding with additional contracts options valued at about $1.3 billion.

The howitzer’s production was hobbled by poor welding, supply-chain problems and delivery delays. Among the setbacks was a six-month halt in deliveries last year because of welding flaws and the return of 50 of 86 vehicles that had already been delivered to repair production deficiencies.

“Our quality control folks were at the BAE facility” where sections of the howitzer are initially produced “and discovered that there was insufficient welding happening on the vehicles, the chassis,” Esper said. “We quickly met with the BAE leadership to address that” and “get it fixed.”

Esper said that while BAE appears to have the welding flaws under control, “there is a deeper recognition there are management issues there. Those discussions are ongoing.”

Alicia Gray, a BAE spokeswoman, said in an email, “We meet regularly with U.S. Army and DOD personnel, and appreciate all opportunities to demonstrate our manufacturing capability and capital investment strategy with their leadership.”

Sections of the howitzers are initially produced at the Pennsylvania facility with final assembly in Elgin, Oklahoma. The program has a strong advocate in Republican Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee who’s in line to be chairman after the death of Senator John McCain.

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