- Associated Press - Thursday, July 3, 2014

LILLINGTON, N.C. (AP) - At the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, companies that supplied the military were on top of the world.

That was true even on East McNeill Street in Lillington, where a once humming manufacturing plant sat under U.S. and Swedish flags.

But the American war in Iraq is over. And the war in Afghanistan is winding down. Meanwhile, the military is undergoing cuts in the face of shrinking budgets, leading to an end of free-spending days from years past.

In 2007, Saab Barracuda in Lillington had 350 employees working around the clock, five days a week to make camouflage netting for the U.S. military. The company’s 80,000-square-foot manufacturing floor was filled with activity.

Seven years later, the brick building isn’t humming as much as it used to. The manufacturing floor is largely empty, with just a few employees working the proprietary machines used by the company. A few more employees use sewing machines in the corner.

Saab Barracuda is down to just more than 60 employees, officials said. The plant goes weeks at a time without running, and officials recently introduced a 32-hour workweek for the remaining employees.

In 2007, the Lillington plant turned out 10,000 camouflage systems a month, said Dottie Womack, a senior adviser to Saab who was recently president of Saab Barracuda’s Lillington operation.

“Today, I’m not doing any,” Womack said in late May. “I have zero orders.”

“To be honest, I don’t know what is in the future after June,” Womack said.

At the Lillington plant, workers continue to make the Ultra Lightweight Camouflage Net Systems, known as ULSCANS, that the company is built on. But instead of being shipped to the military, they are being stored in a nearby warehouse.

The netting is used to hide trucks, buildings and artillery, among other items, but it is not available to the general public. Saab Barracuda sells it exclusively to the military.

Stockpiling the camouflage would have been unheard of just a few years ago, officials said.

Then, Saab Barracuda shipped its product as quickly as it could make it. The only thing stored in a warehouse was the raw materials - fabrics and pigments - needed to make the netting.

The Lillington plant has been here since at least 1975, with many of the remaining workers being among the longest serving.

Patricia Anderson, a plant vice president, has served 29 years at the site, working under six owners.

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