Shoreline Center Equips New Army

September 6, 2002
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MUSKEGON — Inside a one-time catalog outlet in a mixed office-commercial suburban strip, General Dynamics Land Systems is assembling test versions of nimble, hard-hitting mobile guns the Army may use against international terrorism.

As it assembles each of eight Stryker Mobile Guns, the firm’s technical center in Norton Shores will ship them to the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. There they will undergo lengthy field tests to find flaws and bugs that can be eliminated from the production units to be assembled next year in General Dynamics’ Anniston, Ala., plant.

The Army has ordered the guns to equip several brigade combat teams, the light forces the Army wants to be able to land, ready to tackle terrorist forces, anywhere in the world at 72 hours’ notice.

Though lightly armored, the Stryker Mobile Gun System fires the same 105 mm gun used on the first version of the M-1 Abrams tank, also a General Dynamics product.

The gun can take out obsolescent enemy tanks, but the system’s purpose is to give reach and bunker- or building-busting punch to light infantry units. If the Stryker does encounter enemy tanks, its crews must depend on their vehicle’s speed and maneuverability — and the fact that its gun is stabilized. This means that once locked on target, the barrel stays trained on target even when the vehicle jolts over bumpy ground, or zigzags or turns. (In modern warfare, halting to aim and fire is a no-no.)

Though some Stryker vehicles may be available for the Iraq offensive that the Bush Administration supposedly is preparing for this autumn, the mobile gun would not be among them. Nonetheless, development of the Stryker program has happened in a year — an unusually short time for a military procurement system that, in the past, often took decades.

Rick Wyrembleski, director of General Dynamics’ Stryker program, told the Business Journal that the Seminole Road center solved a number of challenges in the project, including perfecting and adapting a revolver-style auto-loading system to it. The Stryker gun is capable of firing 10 rounds in a minute, though such a rate of fire would be unusual.

The innovation isn’t the first from the Seminole Road R&D center. Before General Dynamics acquired the center, it conducted R&D for Teledyne Continental Motors, a holdover from World War II. Between the Seminole site and a large fabrications plant overlooking the Muskegon River bottoms, General Dynamics has just over 500 employees on the shoreline. The plant produces turret drives and gun pod structures for the Stryker gun.

The R&D center employs 130 people, a great many of whom are engineers.

Among innovations that Wyrembleski said the center pioneered was a large cargo truck with suspension so flexible that one could drive it across a field of good-sized boulders. The center created an early version of the Army’s Hummer, which replaced the Jeep, and — more recently — a computer-operated super howitzer that can land seven to 10 shells on one target simultaneously.

Wyrembleski said the Stryker is one in a 10-member family of vehicles using interchangeable chassis, engines and drive trains, thereby simplifying manufacture, maintenance, logistics and repair.

He also said development for the military now occurs on a concurrent basis, meaning work on a project’s numerous disparate components begins simultaneously rather than, say, focusing a turret first, a chassis to carry it, then an engine to move the chassis and so forth.

According to Thomas J. Trazaska, manager of advanced programs engineering, the center also is developing futuristic motor-electric drive systems similar in concept to Honda’s hybrid. He said R&D also is focusing on new propulsion systems that lower the weight and add to the capacity of military vehicles.

The Stryker gun carries 18 rounds of ammunition and operates with sophisticated electronics and detectors for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Deliveries of the infantry carrier versions of the Stryker vehicle began from General Motors’ London, Ontario, plant in March and General Dynamics’ Anniston facility in April.

Several shoreline subcontractors are contributing to the design and manufacture of the Stryker Mobile Gun.

Those contributions range from paint and fabrications to rail slaves, Bore and MTI gauges and spring plungers.

Here are some of the West Michigan firms that are supplying parts to the project:

  • In Grand Haven: Baker Machining, MSC Industrial Supply, Jacobs Plastics Inc. and B&B Design.

  • In Grand Rapids: Kent Rubber, GRS Industrial Supply, Hansen/Balk Steel, Fabary USA, Alro Industrial and Borisch Manufacturing.

  • In Holland: Depatie Fluid Power.

  • In Muskegon: Port City Paint Co., Weber Lumber, Action Industries, Eagle Engineering & Consulting, Fitzpatrick, Holland USA, Norchuk Supply Co., All Phase Electronics, Apex Welding, Bronkfest Co., Harbor Steel & Supply, RTS Industrial, Reid Tool Supply Co, Kaydon Bearing Corp., Ametek Rotron and Ericksons Inc.           

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