on Monday opened a new facility in North Charleston, South Carolina focused on work for new combat vehicle programs, with officials detailing investments in digital and modular manufacturing approaches and building capacity for modernization efforts. 

The new Ground Combat Vehicle Center of Excellence will initially focus on production of the company’s new UT50 unmanned turret, part of BAE Systems’ offering for the Army’s Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicles (OMFV) competition, building the Army’s new mobile command post as well as manufacturing the Sigma or Ro’em 155mm artillery system for Israel’s program to field a new mobile howitzer.

Elbit America’s UT50 turret on display at the opening of the company’s new Ground Combat Vehicle Center of Excellence in North Charleston, South Carolina on May 8, 2023. Photo: Matthew Beinart.

“This is a significant investment, an important investment by Elbit America to produce, what I call, bleeding-edge defense systems for both our U.S. military and some of our most important allies, like Israel,” Raanan Horowitz, the company’s CEO and president, said during remarks at the ribbon cutting ceremony. “It also demonstrates for me a willingness to invest in our future, in real industrial capability, agility, digitally-enabled and a contribution to the U.S. production base capacity.”

Scott Baum, Elbit America’s vice president of strategy and growth, told Defense Daily the facility focuses on “putting the capacity and capability in place” for modernization programs, such as OMFV, that may still be in competition.

“Elbit America is here to stay. We are part of the industrial base. And we’re going to compete on [programs like OMFV] and we’re going to compete on all the other major programs as well. And so we did, we probably built this a little bit at risk. But we have faith that we can bring differentiated capability to all of our customers. And that’s what we’re going to do here for ground combat vehicles,” Baum said. 

Baum also cited the opportunity to build the new 155mm self-propelled howitzer for Israel at the North Charleston facility as an opportunity to establish U.S.-based industrial capacity as the Army eyes potential interest in its own future artillery program.

“[The Army] is looking at starting a new program to build artillery. That’s not an insignificant event, to build the supply chain and the workforce capable of doing that. So [Ro’em] is an important activity,” Baum said. “[This facility] is at the starting point of reenergizing an industrial base to make artillery. We haven’t made artillery in the U.S. in a long time.”

Following his remarks at the ribbon cutting, Horowitz echoed Baum’s remarks about balancing work at the facility with programs already under contract, such as the Army’s Command Post Integrated Infrastructure (CPI2) program and future prospective efforts.

“That’s why we’re doing more than one program here. We have a variety of technologies and products so we’re not dependent — we hope to win them all —  but we’re not dependent on one [program],” Horowitz told Defense Daily

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, also spoke at Monday’s ribbon cutting and cited the importance of building industrial base capacity for modernization programs in her district. 

“Going from a command center made of tents that takes you hours to break down and move on from to this where you can be more mobile with the kind of technology they have [with CPI2] and being modular, that is the future of a modern military. To have this kind of manufacturing facility here is great for the Lowcountry. We have so much defense investments here and manufacturing, a lot of people don’t realize it,” Mace told Defense Daily following the ceremony.

Construction on the new facility began about two years ago, with Elbit America planning to have 100 employees working onsite by the end of the year. 

“We recognized that we had both a demand signal coming from the U.S. and from our partners and allies. It’s one thing to think about it, but it takes years to actually put this together. So this is actually the summation of probably a four-year exercise and probably two years of actually moving dirt, building things,” Baum said. 

Baum cited the new facility’s emphasis on agile and modular manufacturing processes, along with a focus on digital engineering practices, as enabling “innovation at speed.”

“When you think of having to build something as complex as CPI2 or a new howitzer or a new turret or an entirely new system that the Army is requiring, you begin to require things that you hear like model-based systems engineering, digital twin, a fully sensored facility, so that you are taking measurements and characteristic reads throughout the entire process. And a lot of people fixate about the cost savings or the time saving. It’s actually also for quality,” Baum said. “Today’s advances in data analytics and understanding quality control and process control design, allows you to test and sensor things all the way through the process. So when a system rolls out that door, it’s not just done well. We put our stamp on it that it’s going to operate the exact way we designed it.”

On the new UT50 turret, Baum noted that Elbit America used model-based systems engineering to design and develop the weapon system.

“That was done digitally. Now you bring it [to the new facility] and you try something and the customer may come back and say they’d like to change the sensor on the side. We can model it. We can understand what actually has to change. We can optimize how we make the changes. And we just continue along, instead of stopping and going back to the beginning of the line. We can do it in the mid-stream of manufacturing. And that’s what innovation is,” Baum said.

Elbit America displayed an early prototype version of its UT50 turret at the facility opening on Monday, noting the weapon system is integrated with the Army-designed and Northrop Grumman [NOC]-built XM913 50mm cannon. 

Willie Nuckols, Elbit America’s program director for ground combat systems, said the UT50 turret offers an “exceptional leap forward in lethality” as part of BAE Systems’ offering for OMFV (Defense Daily, Nov. 30 2022). 

Nuckols noted Elbit America has worked on UT50 with the Army’s DEVCOM Armaments Center (AC) under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, which has included one live-fire demonstration last fall and potentially another that could be slated for next year to shoot the system while on the move.

“[The live-fire demonstration] went very, very, very well. We fired over 200 rounds out to 3,000 meters. The government was very happy. We were very happy. It went well,” Nuckols told Defense Daily. “There is a distinct probability for [another demonstration]. It would probably occur, most likely, early next year…It would be on the move. So we would actually put this on a chassis. And that’s what DEVCOM AC is very interested in, is doing on the move testing.”

For the Sigma automated 155mm artillery system for Israel’s Ro’em program to field a new mobile howitzer, Elbit America is under contract to build 140 platforms with deliveries set to begin in summer 2024.

“It’s automated. Soldiers are not required to fire it. It can go from 60 miles per hour to a dead stop, lay in, shoot off eight rounds, pick up and be gone in 60 seconds,” Baum said.