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Gunmaker scaling back
Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, GA) ^ | 1/30/06 | TONY ADAMS

Posted on 01/31/2006 12:39:01 PM PST by kiriath_jearim

Posted on Mon, Jan. 30, 2006

Gunmaker scaling back


When German gunmaker Heckler & Koch showed up in Columbus more than two years ago, it had big plans for becoming one of the city's major local companies.

On the drawing board was a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, a $25 million capital investment and at least 200 high-paying jobs -- maybe more. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue even visited Columbus to attend a groundbreaking at Muscogee Technology Park, the industrial area off Macon Road where H&K was supposed to construct its large facility.

But Sterling, Va.-based Heckler & Koch (pronounced "coke") had to scale back its strategy in a major way after learning last October that the U.S. military had cancelled competitive bidding for the next-generation assault rifle. H&K was hoping to land a lucrative contract with the government to replace its 40-year-old M4 carbine and M16 rifle.

Now the company is regrouping in Columbus, forgoing construction of a large plant for an existing 13,170-square-foot building near Columbus East Industrial Park off Macon Road. The structure, formerly used by Cessna Aircraft, is the U.S. distribution center for H&K's 80 models of weapons and accessories.

Peter Simon, H&K executive vice president for programs and government relations, in an interview last week, was cautious in his remarks about the company's downsized fortunes. He knows offending someone in the military's supply chain could harm H&K's chances of landing a huge contract.

Still, he said it has been tough watching the XM8 assault rifle developed by his company -- and generally applauded by soldiers testing it in the field -- get shot down in the bidding process.

"I'm disappointed that the program has not proceeded through a procurement stage, and because we have not had the opportunity to compete," said Simon, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel. "From our point of view, we contracted with the United States Army to develop a certain capability and we fulfilled that contract." Sticking points in the process include the demand by other manufacturers that the bidding be wide open and that H&K not have an advantage because it developed the weapon. Col. Michael Smith, former weapons program manager at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, commented during an XM8 live-fire demonstration at Fort Benning 14 months ago that the developing company often receives the contract ultimately.

"He's got it locked," Smith said of weapon developers. "He understands exactly how to build it. No one's ever going to build it better than he can." There also is the matter of the U.S. defense budget, which topped $400 million in 2005. Congressional committees and the Department of Defense are currently taking a critical look at military spending. A number of defense experts are betting there will be cuts in current and future weapons programs.

Weapons program still alive

Lt. Col. Tim Chyma, Smith's successor at Picatinny Arsenal, said the current conflict in the Middle East was the driving factor behind putting the brakes on the assault rifle bidding. Last May, he said, bidding was started after the U.S. Army decided to add a light machine gun capability to the new rifle.

But by May, the decision was made to suspend the process and rethink what is technically being called the "objective individual combat weapon" program. The military, Chyma said, then stopped the process completely in October.

"Right now, the Army is reassessing and re-evaluating its priorities for weapons, as well as the (weapons) requirements based on the stuff coming out of the field," he said.

That includes doing post-combat surveys of soldiers as they leave hot zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military wants to know what is working in the heat of battle and what isn't, particularly in urban settings, Chyma said.

"It's a matter of, hey, let's make sure we're doing the right thing before we proceed; make sure we capture everything and then we'll move forward," he said. Chyma insists the assault rifle program has not been shelved. Yet, he also doesn't have a feel for how long it might take to get the next-generation rifle into the hands of soldiers and U.S. Marines. Asked if that moment could come within five years, he replied, "That's a reasonable timeline."

"The big thing is just understanding it will be a competitive process," he said. "A full and open competition is the approach."

The M16 has been in the military's arsenal since 1964, making it one of the longest-running weapon programs in U.S. defense history. It has undergone modifications through the years. But Simon said the time has come to give troops something better, be it H&K's XM8 design or someone else's.

"I think that there are a number of manufacturers that have products either in their inventory right now or under development that represent an advancement over the current legacy systems," he said.

Until the military pulls the trigger on large contracts, a major expansion in Columbus will have to wait. The 13,170-square-foot distribution center -- although it will handle between $15 million and $20 million in weapons and accessories this year -- is a far cry from the 100,000-square-foot behemoth plant the company was hoping to construct. The seven employees there now are nowhere near the 200-plus workers pledged by Heckler & Koch at its October 2003 groundbreaking at Muscogee Technology Park.

"All of that planning was based on the program that the Army was pursuing for the development of the XM8 and fielding it," he said. "We have, obviously, had to significantly adjust our expansion plans."

Columbus Mayor Bob Poydasheff expressed disappointment that the XM8 has yet to lead to a huge contract for H&K and more than 200 jobs for city residents. But he said recent job announcements, including Aflac's 2,000-employee expansion -- on top of Fort Benning picking up thousands of troops and civilian workers over the next four years -- have eased the pain.

"Now that there's going to be a distribution center, it's not going to take too much of a jump (for H&K) to create and modify a portion it for manufacturing, which would then employ the 200 some odd people," he said.

Room to expand

Heckler & Koch is working on plans to turn about 5,000 square feet of the distribution center space into a manufacturing facility, Simon said. The company -- not the military -- still retains the rights to the XM8 design. He declined to say if H&K is shopping it around to other potential customers.

Richard Grantham, operations manager at the Columbus distribution center, will be the person heading that possible expansion. The distribution center, open since October, was relocated from Virginia, where it had been 16 years.

Grantham said the center has enough room to expand its walls by another 10,000 square feet if need be. That would mean investments in new equipment and the addition of several workers. It's simply a matter of landing a big contract -- although it really isn't all that simple.

"It's a different business when you're talking about dealing with the government," he said. "We've got so many government agencies and regulations, it's not like you can go in and sell paperclips. It was a learning experience for everybody."

The distribution center, which is surrounded by heavyweight fencing and uses alarms and security systems to control access, is steadily funneling pistols and rifles through it. On Friday, a box of ammunition magazines sat on the dock floor, bound for troops fighting in Afghanistan.

Last month, Heckler & Koch used a range at Fort Benning to test out a new grenade launcher it will market. The company also is setting up its Columbus facility to serve as a weapon repair center.

"It's all dealing with the government contracts," Grantham said. "If we receive government contracts, we're in the position where we can grow and expand in a very fast fashion."

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Government; US: Georgia
KEYWORDS: banglist
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To: yarddog
Good afternoon.
"I had an HK SL6 which was in .223."

That's the one. I'm sorry never got to handle one. I'm glad to hear that it was accurate. Was it reliable and is it still marketed?

Michael Frazier
41 posted on 01/31/2006 3:14:04 PM PST by brazzaville (no surrender no retreat, well, maybe retreat's ok)
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To: brazzaville
I haven't seen one in some time so I would guess it is no longer being made.

Yes, it was totally reliable, never had the sense it would ever jam.

42 posted on 01/31/2006 3:16:37 PM PST by yarddog
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To: Dead Corpse

I just think it's hard for German companies to adjust to all the different rules in the USA. The fact that it's 50 states and the gun laws are different in each of them. For a while it was pretty easy to buy select fire versions of the MP-9 and stuff. Then it became impossible. The AWB scared a lot of vendors. The Cali AWB did too, as it's the biggest single state.

I like the HK's USP pistols too. But then I like Smith&Wssons and Kimbers and Rugers and Berettas and SIGs and CZ's too. Most of those companies don't make much true military hardward (ie: full auto stuff) so don't even have to think about it.

HK is privately held. This does allow them more independence than public companies. They never signed a consent decree that I am aware of, and haven't put lots of retrofitted parts that Chuckie and Hillary want on all their guns, unlike some of the companies listed above.

Like the man said: "youse pays your money and takes youse choice"

43 posted on 01/31/2006 3:16:41 PM PST by Jack Black
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To: mwyounce
Consider yourself thanked J

Considering the price I bought it (77 cents) I haven't been too concerned with the ups and downs of it.
If it ever dropped below $1.00 I might sell.

44 posted on 01/31/2006 3:22:03 PM PST by Fiddlstix (Tagline Repair Service. Let us fix those broken Taglines. Inquire within(Presented by TagLines R US))
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To: kiriath_jearim
The Barrett 6.8 Rem SPC cartridge has been in military evaluation for some time

45 posted on 01/31/2006 4:22:48 PM PST by 45Auto (Big holes are (almost) always better.)
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Where is the SCAR being built?

46 posted on 01/31/2006 5:38:19 PM PST by heckler (wiskey for my men, beer for my horses, rifles for sister sarah)
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To: Lancer_N3502A
MP5 is also available - to LE/Military - in 10mm Auto.

That, and the UMP .45, are the ultimate SMGs.

47 posted on 01/31/2006 5:42:20 PM PST by xsrdx (Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas)
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To: Lancer_N3502A

Thanks for torturing a fellow with some raunchy gun porn! ;>))

48 posted on 01/31/2006 6:34:43 PM PST by Space Wrangler
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To: Joe Brower
Or how about a civilian version of the XM8,

They do offer a semi-auto version of the G36, which the XM8 is more or less based on.


SL-8 semi-auto.

That's with a nuetered magazine design, because BATF ruled, under the Impeached One, that guns able to accept a >10 round magazine could not be imported, even if no such magazine had ever been imported. So H&K had to change the design a little so it could not accept the G-36 magazine. Hopefully they are now able to import the version that can.

49 posted on 01/31/2006 9:25:29 PM PST by El Gato (The Second Amendment is the Reset Button of the U.S. Constitution)
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Too bad Bill Clinton exported THOUSANDS of M-14's to our "allies", and these rifles can never be reimported for civilian use.

They couldn't anyway under the "once a machine gun, always a machine gun" policy of the BATFE, even that's nowhere in the law, just the regs. Parts could be though.

Worse though is that Clinton sent many M-14s, parts and all, to Captain Krunch, which crushed them. They are likely rebar or chicken wire now.

50 posted on 01/31/2006 9:31:28 PM PST by El Gato (The Second Amendment is the Reset Button of the U.S. Constitution)
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To: heckler

SCAR Light and Heavy (5.56mm and 7.62mm versions) are being built at the FN Plant in South Carolina, IIRC.

FN has made comments about possible civilian sales.
Givent that they've released the PS90 (as promised) and plant to release the FN2000 later this year, I think we can thake them at their word.

51 posted on 02/01/2006 5:09:54 AM PST by SJSAMPLE
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To: El Gato

Parts is exactly what we wanted.
Newer milled receivers like the LRW are on par with the older TRW receivers and the parts kits the DCM could have released would have been a tremendous benefit to all competitive shooters.

During my reserve days, back in 1994 or so, I escorted about fifty VERY GOOD condition M1911A1s to the steam chopper when we received our M9/92FS Berettas. Many of those Colts looked like they had never been fired.

52 posted on 02/01/2006 5:12:30 AM PST by SJSAMPLE
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To: Joe Brower

HK turned it's back on the civilian market here in the US. They refuse to service any civilian owned full auto and that has hurt them.

HK could become the premier gun company here in the US but that won't happen until management changes and they remember that the civilian market is where they had their big break through in the US.


53 posted on 02/01/2006 5:15:51 AM PST by BCR #226
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To: samadams2000; Rummyfan; Centurion2000

Somehow I can't picture Clint Eastwood saying "Meet my three friends, Smith, Wesson and Bob."

54 posted on 02/01/2006 5:16:18 AM PST by Larry Lucido
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To: kiriath_jearim

Maybe it's time for H & K to stop treating the civilian market like something it scraped off its shoe. I love my USP, but H & K has consistently treated the civilian market with Teutonic disdain.

55 posted on 02/01/2006 5:22:16 AM PST by RogueIsland
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To: Lancer_N3502A
I've had the opportunity to shoot the UMP .45 ACP submachine gun and the MP-5 9 millimeter parabellum.

I liked the UMP .45 ACP more, but it had more recoil when fired. 230 grain rounds versus 135 grain rounds.

UMP .45 ACP Submachine Gun

56 posted on 05/01/2006 1:02:01 PM PDT by 2nd_Amendment_Defender ("It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains." -- Patrick Henry)
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