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BAE expects expansion, more hiring

ELGIN  The BAE Systems plant promises to be a busy place in the coming months.

BAE  which assembles and tests the PIM (Paladin Integrated Management) howitzer  is expecting a major expansion and more hiring as a result of contracts with the Army.

U.S Sen. Jim Inhofe toured the plant on Friday and thanked the current employees for their hard work in moving the project forward. Southwest Oklahoma, with access to a rail and truck transportation and live training range and ability to draw upon a dedicated workforce, can expect more good news in the coming years, he said.

"We have a great resource here now that's known all across the world," the senator said.

"You're doing a great job here," he said. "I hear compliments all the time about the work ethic we have in Oklahoma."

The project has been a long time coming, he said, counting previous projects  like the Crusader howitzer and the Future Combat Systems  that have fallen by the wayside through the years as American artillery lagged behind.

"This is going to save lives; this is going to put us back ahead ... and it's right here in Elgin, Oklahoma."

The PIM (officially the M109A7 self-propelled 155mm howitzer) repurposes some parts from the M109A6 that is fielded now, but thoroughly modernizes the howitzer with new technology.

Adam Zarfoss, vice president and general manager of BAE Systems' Combat Vehicles U.S. business, said the company has a contract to produce an extra 48 PIM sets (the howitzer and ammo carrier) during low production. The Army has three one-year options to make 60 sets a year in full production. Even that many will not replace all 560 or so older howitzers in the inventory, which means there might be more work to come.

Ramping up production will require more space and more employees.

"We expect to move dirt in April," Zarfoss said, with the expansion to be completed around the end of the year. The plant now has about 20 employees and the expansion could double that.

Inhofe said more good news is in store for the Army and the other services. President Barack Obama was "an honest liberal" and was "lousy in terms of defense."

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