Launchers back in East Camden

Plant to restart production of rocket devices for military

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launcher is shown firing a tactical missile, both of which will be produced again this year at Lockheed Martin’s East Camden plant.

EAST CAMDEN -- Lockheed Martin's East Camden plant will restart production this year of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launcher and the Tactical Missile System, the Bethesda, Md., firm said Tuesday.

Until 2013, the East Camden plant built the rocket launcher, which had the reputation among the U.S. military and its allies of being extremely accurate.

For more than two decades, until 2014, Lockheed Martin built the Tactical Missile System at its plant near El Paso.

Col. Joseph Russo, commanding officer of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's 14th Regiment in Fort Worth, Texas, called the rocket system revolutionary Tuesday during a ceremony at the East Camden plant.

"It dramatically changed the way that we were able to provide surface fire in the 21st-century battlefield," the highly decorated Russo said.

When Russo first encountered the rocket launcher, better known by its acronym HIMARS, military personnel were unfamiliar with the system, he said. In 2009, the first year using the launchers, only 12 rockets were fired, Russo said. By 2011, with the military much more familiar with the system, 250 rockets were fired, Russo said.

Col. Robert Picht Jr. of the U.S. Army, capabilities manager for the field artillery brigade at Fort Sill, Okla., recalled working with an Afghan general.

"We rolled up to his headquarters in a big armored truck, and he was disappointed when he came out to meet us," Picht said. "'Where is your HIMARS launcher?' I told him we had to leave them at home. He said, 'That's too bad. Because we have a lot of targets you could be shooting at.' Even our multinational partners are familiar with it."

Lockheed Martin said stories are told of a battle in the Iraq war when the enemy had U.S. troops pinned down by snipers positioned on a high-rise building. The troops and even a tank could not get a good shot at the snipers because of the extreme angle.

So the troops used the rocket-launcher system. With U.S. forces in the street, Lockheed Martin's rockets made a direct hit on the top of the building, taking out the snipers. No U.S. troops were hurt, and the streetlights at the front of the building didn't even break, one Lockheed Martin executive said.

East Camden built 480 rocket launchers but stopped production for the U.S. military in 2013. It will begin making the rocket launcher again late this year and will have 12 built by the end of next year.

The rocket launchers have had 1 million operational hours, meaning the 480 launchers have been up and running -- not including time when they've been idle -- for the equivalent of 1 million hours, said Colin Sterling, director of the Camden plant.

Lockheed's East Camden facility also will reopen production of the Tactical Missile System.

"The reopening of the [missile system] production is good news for both our domestic and international customers," Frank St. John, Lockheed Martin's vice president of tactical missiles and combat maneuver systems, told about 250 people Tuesday.

Lockheed's Camden plant has about 650 employees. The company will not add any employees for production of the rocket launcher and missile system.

Lockheed Martin is the largest employer in the area. It is in the East Camden Highland Industrial Park, one of the largest industrial parks in a five-state region. Lockheed Martin has a combined floor space exceeding 1.9 million square feet at its East Camden operation.

Business on 05/18/2016