General Dynamics Taunton plant spared budget cut
A General Dynamics military plant in Taunton dodged a huge bullet when the Pentagon this week backed off a plan to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from a communications projects being developed there.
The Defense Department’s proposal to cut $334.6 million from the project--a mobile communications system for military units in the field--had met with stiff opposition in Congress, particularly from Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.). General Dynamics had said the cut, if enacted, would probably have led to layoffs at the Taunton plant.
But after meeting with Brown earlier this week, Pentagon officials said they would continue funding the program, known as WIN-T, and try to find savings elsewhere in its budget, the senator’s office said.
“I’m pleased that the Army’s plans to change the program have been shelved, and instead have been replaced by smarter budget savings,” Brown said in a statement. “This reversal reinforces that the WIN-T program remains a top Army priority and is a major relief for hundreds of families that have been on edge.”
Brown is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, one of the congressional panels that has to sign off on the Pentagon’s request to redirect some $8 billion from existing contracts to cover cost overruns elsewhere in its budget, including the cut to the Taunton project.
Now the Pentagon plans to submit a revised budget-balancing measure to Congress, though it is unclear whether it will still seek to trim some funds from the General Dynamics contract.
The original proposed cut was for a one-time reduction, and the Pentagon had said it planned to resume funding the program on schedule in its budget. But General Dynamics officials had said the reduction could inflict long-term damage to the Taunton plant, which has about 1,000 workers, many of whom work on the mobile communications contract.
For one, company officials feared the company would permanently lose any skilled employees that would be laid-out off during the interim reduction. Secondly, they worried that in a climate of belt-tightening throughout government, the one-time reduction would make the communications project vulnerable to future budget cuts, especially because the Pentagon is preparing to streamline itself as operations in the Middle East wind down, and Congress has mandated massive reductions in spending that are supposed to hit military spending hard.
So the news that the Pentagon was backing off the large reduction was greeted warmly by General Dynamics.
“The employees in Taunton, their spirits are uplifted by the progress we’ve made in generating interest in supporting this high priority program,” said Chris Marzilli, chief executive of the General Dynamics unit that oversees the project. “In these tough economic times, the preservation of hundreds of jobs in a distressed district such as Taunton is of paramount importance.”
General Dynamics has been developing the communications system at its Taunton plant for years. Known as the Warfighter Information Network Tactical, the system would allow ground troops to exchange data via satellite while on the move in vehicles, a vital feature in mountainous terrain where older, line-of-sight technology is not reliable. An early version of the system is currently deployed, but it can be used only in stationary locations; the next version would allow troops to communicate while on the move in remote areas.
The latest version of the Warfighter system was tested by the military this spring, and General Dynamics officials say it performed well, although official go-ahead to complete deployment of the system to eight brigades is not expected until September. The contract got an appropriation of $838 million for the current fiscal year, but none of that money has been spent so far, making it a target for Pentagon planners with other bills to pay.