NASHUA — BAE Systems has moved a step closer to a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the development and manufacture of hand-held military targeting devices.
The company announced on Tuesday that it had successfully completed an Army-led review of a portable targeting system that enables soldiers on the ground to identify, locate and mark targets for attack in all lighting and weather conditions.
The Army’s approval of the system’s design and capabilities is a key milestone in a $15 million, three-year development and testing contract BAE announced last April.
The Army is working with two vendors — BAE in Nashua and DRS Technologies in Dallas, Texas — both of which were awarded development and testing contracts. A production contract for 3,000 units will be awarded to one of the two companies at the end of 2015, according to Mark Hutchins, director of targeting programs at BAE.
Hutchins said the value of the production contract will depend on unit price, which will be part of the competitive bidding process, but he estimated it in the hundreds of millions.
“It’s a key part of our electronic systems portfolio, so we’re looking at a five-year production run, followed by five to 10 years of support and maintenance,” he said. “That would keep a sizeable labor base in Southern New Hampshire for 10 to 15 years.”
Anywhere from 32 to 75 BAE employees would be assigned to the project, depending on the rate by year at which the military buys the systems, and how much maintenance or repair is necessary over the life of the contract.
The BAE product is called “HAMMER,” which stands for Handheld Azimuth Measuring, Marking, Electro-Optic Imaging and Ranging. Azimuth is a measurement used primarily in navigation, astronomy, engineering, mapping, mining and artillery.
A soldier peering through what looks like high-tech binoculars would use the HAMMER device to locate a target. The device then relays the precise location of the target to aircraft or ground units.
“The biggest thing about this product is that it locates a target precisely, so that precision weapons like a laser-guided bomb or GPS-guided munitions can land on the target on the very first round,” said Hutchins.
That precision represents a significant improvement over current technology in the field.
“Right now, they can try but cannot guarantee that they will hit the target,” he said. “They can get close, but it won’t be the first shot on-target, all the time.”
Hutchins described the HAMMER program as an evolution of technology that has only been developed in the past five years. “This is utilizing technology that we and our industry partners have been developing over the last several years, and finally putting it into a product to meet the precision targeting needs of the Army,” he said.
One of those partners is Elbit Systems of America in Merrimack, a defense electronics contractor previously known as Kollsman prior to its purchase by the Israeli corporate giant with 11,000 employees worldwide.
“If we go into production, they will provide a key subsystem in the production contract,” Hutchins said.
With more than 4,000 employees, BAE, with headquarters at 65 Spit Brook Road in Nashua, is by far the state’s largest manufacturing employer.