- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

As conflicts around the globe send more charities and development groups in harm’s way, a company that specializes in armoring war-fighting machines is branching into civilian markets.

BAE Systems, the British-owned company with U.S. headquarters in Rockville, employs 55,000 workers in the United States and specializes in developing military armor and vehicles.

After acquiring the assets of Armor Holdings in 2007, BAE responded when charities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan created a demand for armored support vehicles.

“We need certain levels of armoring for certain situations,” said Steven O’Connor, director of communications at DAI, a D.C.-based company that develops financial structures, agriculture and government in places such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We do the whole gamut of international development, especially local government capacity,” he said. “So we need vehicles like these for transporting team members.”

BAE said its commercial success has been driven by growing design capabilities, computers allow the company to record the size and weight of armor that will fit in a vehicle and machines cut it to the proper dimensions quickly and cheaply.

Most of the work for civilian groups is done on fresh-from-the-factory cars or trucks that need an armoring package slipped on such as a bulletproof vest over a Marine’s shoulders.

“It’s all based around vehicle body,” said Mike Boczek, manager of Survivability Technology for BAE. “We work with designers and engineers to give them the whole cost: ‘We want this and this and this, and the vehicle needs to be protected from this and this and this.’ ”

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) keeps a fleet of 300 vehicles it deploys to its areas of operation around the world. They too use the vehicles mainly to transport personnel.

“The rise of the transnational terrorist threat and an increased USAID presence in Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan has increased our fleet size,” said David Blackshaw, USAID overseas security division chief. “USAID also relies heavily on State Departments motor pool fleets for movement of their personnel, and we purchase approximately 25 new armored vehicles each year.”

BAE, which maintains most of its Security and Survivability production in Cincinnati, is well-known for its development of Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to carry U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. A kind of cross-fertilization of ideas for military and civilian vehicles allows BAE to cut costs and provide a higher quality of armored transportation.

“We’ll build a transparent military vehicle armor, then move it over to a civilian vehicle. Or something in a military vehicle can go in a commercial airline cockpit. And we use energy absorbing seats and restraints in all types of vehicles,” said Tony Russell, president for the security and survivability division of BAE.

But while there’s a large demand for vehicles from NGOs such as DAI and USAID, other groups say using them draws unnecessary attention.

“Armored vehicles make you enter a different relationship with the community,” said Pascal Daudin, director of security and safety unit at CARE International, an Atlanta-based international charity. “We don’t have the right weapons to ensure our security.”

CARE International doesn’t use armored vehicles. Mr. Daudin said they did during conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s, where their use was mandatory for charities. But given the risks, Mr. Daudin stressed it is “only a temporary solution.”

BAE hopes to convince more NGOs to adopt the vehicles, citing their protection and low cost. Mr. Boczek stressed that a vehicle with lower total weight will be less expensive for customers, while higher weight reduces speed and cost. Whatever combination the customer chooses, however, protection is the premium concern. BAE uses a combination of kevlar, steel armor plate, ceramics, bulletproof glass and internally developed products such as transparent armor to protect workers riding through a combat zone or unstable region.

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