MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga -- The Marine Corps has recently begun upgrading the Amphibious Assault Vehicle to take on faster speeds and more demanding loads.
The new suspension systems require more than 384 man-hours each to complete, and a military contractor aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany is making it happen.
United Defense Ltd., located in a warehouse by the base's back gate, may have a nondescript building, but the work that goes on inside is keeping Marine AAVs at the forefront of today's battlefield technology.
"The new suspension systems are designed to support more weight, and are only one of the improvements to the AAVs," explained Bud LaPlaca, manufacturing supervisor.
"The upgraded vehicles are more durable, higher off the ground, and have more horsepower," he continued.
Only 12 employees work in the United Defense building here, yet they are tasked with completing upgrades to seven AAVs each month.
Their task is retrofitting the new suspension systems onto the more than 600 remaining Marine Corps AAVs.
It may seem nearly impossible with so few people working on them, but the contractors have a few tricks up their sleeves.
Engineers and welders use "monster machines" to help them accomplish their crucial mission.
One of these machines, nicknamed "turnover," lifts more than 15 tons and is used to rotate the AAVs' stripped hulls.
"We use the turnover to rotate the AAVs into positions where our welding will be more effective," LaPlaca said. "By rotating the (AAV) hulls around precisely, we're able to get more even welds and less imperfections."
United Defense workers rely on another machine that uses an ultra-hot plasma beam to cut through the two-inch thick armored aluminum and still another that punches out exact patterns into the hollowed out AAV shells.
"I couldn't get my job done without these machines," said Kimble Jackson, a United Defense welder.
"We need (the machines) to get our tasks accomplished," he denoted.
With so many machines around, Kimble added that workers must constantly be alert and focus on safety issues. Visitors and workers in low risk jobs are required to wear protective goggles and earplugs at all times in the warehouse.
Welders must wear a full body protective suit, complete with an air filtration system to prevent particle inhalation.
United Defense Ltd. originally manufactured AAVs for the Marine Corps in 1985, and continues to represent the company the Corps relies on for maintenance and up-grades.
The company began production here in 1994.
It is currently upgrading 54 AAVs that the Thai military purchased from the Marine Corps.
Work will resume on the second phase of Marine Corps AAVs this upcoming June.