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Will more combat helmets mean more combat?

The biggest war news out of Vermont lately is that the multi-national military industrial complex is expanding its manufacturing presence in the rural Green Mountain state with a significantly enlarged combat helmet-making factory that produces “head protection systems” for military and law enforcement clients worldwide.

Revision Military of Essex Junction, Vermont, will be making 90,000 new combat helmets for the U.S. Army, thanks to a deal brokered by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-VT, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, and the state’s economic development team.   As of March 2012, US active duty military strength was more than 1.4 million,  providing a substantial market for helmets.

The two-year, $21.6 million contract for more than 90,000 combat helmets will enable the company to double the size of its Newport workforce from 40 to 80 employees.  This is seen as a boost for the chronically-challenged economy of Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom.

Revision has some 200 employees worldwide, with offices in Canada and the Netherlands in addition to Vermont.  Revision also has a recently signed, seven-year  contract to sell 4,335 Batlskin Head Protection System helmets to the Danish military.   Revision’s current clients also include the British, Canadian, and Swiss militaries.

Revision CEO Jonathan Blanshay told NECN he hoped that: “Once we’ve delivered these 90,000, it’s my hope and expectation we’ll get another follow-on award for another couple hundred thousand helmets, which will keep this place humming for at least two more years.”

Newport is the same town where the county sheriff’s department suffered the loss of six cruisers and a van during the summer, when a disgruntled farmer ran over the vehicles with his parents’ ten-ton tractor.

Until last June, the Newport helmet-making facility belonged to another defense contractor, MSA North America of Pittsburgh, a part of MSA Global, a company with 5,300 employees and over $1 billion in revenue that is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Revision bought the MSA facility for an undisclosed amount in a deal  in which few details were made public, other than that it, too, was brokered by Leahy and Shumlin.  The company’s press release at the time reported that “Revision has committed orders from the U.S. Army to deliver approximately 100,000 helmets over the 12 months following the acquisition.”

Not all observors thought this was such a good deal, as an industry blog, Soldier Systems commented in June: “Remember way back at the end of March when we told you that MSA was selling their Vermont-based helmet business to someone? Well, we’ve been sitting on our hand for months waiting to tell you that it was Revision all along. It’s odd that they announced something this big after 5PM on a Friday. That’s why you’re reading it Saturday. Doesn’t matter who bought it, MSA was smart to unload it. That factory manufactures aramid helmets and both Army and Marine Corps are moving toward polyethylene helmets for the future.”

A press release from Sen. Leahy’s office stated that: “Leahy has been one of the strongest advocates for both Revision and then-MSA. As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Defense Subcommittee, which handles the Senate’s work in writing the annual Defense Department budget, Leahy worked with MSA to develop and field the ACH [Advanced Combat Helmet] by securing more than $10 million in research, development and procurement contracts for MSA. He has also worked with Revision Military to secure millions in military contracts for research, development and procurement of Revision’s protective eyewear. But Leahy said the announcement he made in July 2011, a $2 million contract between the Army and Revision to develop a next-generation helmet system, was at the heart of the MSA-Revision deal.”

An advanced combat helmet – “MSA ACH Kevlar Army Combat Helmet MICH” – made by MSA sells on Amazon.com for about $330 – 90,000 would cost about $29,700 retail, before any negotiated discount.   But there are only three available, one used.  The US government spends $340 billion per year on goods and services.

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