Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff
Fenders, plates and other steel components fabricated in Stratford will help make up the Canadian military’s new and improved fleet of light armoured vehicles (LAV).
Announced at a press conference Wednesday, Steelcraft Inc. has been awarded a $10.39 million subcontract by General Dynamics Land Systems – Canada in support of Canada’s LAV III upgrade project.
“This is a great day for Stratford,” said MP Gary Schellenberger, who made the local announcement on behalf of his colleagues in Ottawa, “as we bring together our proud industrial history, manufacturing expertise, and above all, our skilled workers, to support the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces.”
The federal government announced a multi-billion dollar contract with London-based General Dynamics in 2011 for upgrades to the LAV III including improved mobility and weapon systems, additional armour and improved seating.
Schellenberger, who noted the contract speaks highly of the work being done by Steelcraft, said the renewal of equipment and capabilities is an important part of the government’s “Canada-first defence strategy.”
He suggested the upgrades to the LAV III would provide the army with the equipment needed to take on present day challenges like the recent conflict in Afghanistan, which demonstrated a need for highly protected and mobile combat vehicles that can withstand mines, improvised explosive devices and anti-armour weapons.
In total, 550 LAV IIIs are being upgraded, with an option for an additional 80. The upgrades are expected to extend the lifespan of the vehicles to 2035.
While he already believed the LAV III was the best armoured vehicle in the world, General Dynamics’ Ken Hill said there still was room for improvement, noting the upgrades will ensure better fire power, mobility and survivability.
“And we’re now in the process of delivering on that,” he said, noting General Dynamics is working with over 500 manufacturers from all provinces who are supplying parts for the LAV III upgrade project.
As for Steelcraft’s contribution, Hill said the parts provided would be integral to the production of the vehicle's newly designed hull.
While Steelcraft employs over 550 workers, company president Keith Zehr said the contract work would be carried out by a small team of 20-25 within its Quality Components International (QCI) division.
He added the company has already invested about $1 million into process improvements to support the contract – one of the largest in the company’s history – which is expected to run for four years, with the possibility of a fifth.
While the contract won’t directly lead to any new jobs, Zehr said, given the proximity of two companies, Steelcraft certainly stands to benefit from a continued relationship with General Dynamics.
“We’re working on many things so that we can in fact grow the business with (General Dynamics),” he added. “We’re trying to be a key supplier so when they need fabricated components we are flexible enough to hit their demands.”
Wednesday’s announcement, held at the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans Hall, was attended by employees from Steelcraft’s QCI division, who were shown a brief video about General Dynamics and its work with the Canadian military.
Keith said afterwards he felt it was important the workers at Steelcraft understood the final product of their hard work, adding he believes the company is making a positive impact.
“I think there’s a sense of pride. There definitely is on my end in terms of what we can do to make a difference.
“As a company, it’s more than about producing a product, it’s what we can do to have an impact outside of the business to our customers.”