Tribe’s military manufacturer to design, build Camel II water trailer in multi-year, multi-million dollar deal
By BRET MOSS Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
McALESTER, Okla. – The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) excels in many facets of the business world. From gaming and agriculture, to convenience stations and medical facilities, CNO has made great strides becoming a major name in many areas.
Over the past decade, the Choctaw Nation has become a well-known name in the field of military manufacturing. Choctaw Defense, with locations in McAlester, Hugo and Antlers, constantly churns out necessary military equipment for the support of America’s armed forces.
The name of Choctaw Defense is well respected and trusted in the business of military manufacturing, with a newly acquired three-year, $20 million contract proving the point.
The U.S. Army has just recently awarded Choctaw Defense the performance standard contract to design and manufacture the Camel II potable water trailer system. This will be a highly mobile water trailer that will provide troops, no matter the location and atmosphere in which they are located, clean and temperature controlled drinking water within 10 degrees of a set standard.
The fact that this contract is a “performance standard” contract means that Choctaw Defense will not only be charged with making the parts and assembling them, it will also produce the design from the ground up.
In a performance standard contract, the military provides a set list of capabilities the finished product must have, and the designers and engineers must create a working product to those specifications. Choctaw Defense has a team of about a dozen designers, mechanical engineers and computer design engineers to complete such a task.
With about 230 employees in all three manufacturing locations, Choctaw Defense also has enough manpower to turn the design into a real working product. The capabilities and equipment of the facilities are much more advanced than one would find in a local machine shop, and the meticulous attention to detail that must be demonstrated is of utmost priority in all facilities.
The employees and equipment of such an operation must produce such products that are of much higher standards and strict specification than commercial grade manufacturing. Every single detail must be given close attention and documented. Not one aspect, even the design of the seemingly random camouflage paint, escapes the inspection of the facility.
In a walk-through of the McAlester facility one would find a clean, efficient operation with employees diligently completing their assigned tasks. “It is one big orchestra,” mentions CEO Steve Benefield.
The product of such an orchestra is a considerable amount of new business and recognition from high places in the military. The current commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps., Gen. James Amos, recently commended Choctaw Defense publicly by stating how Choctaw Defense partners with the Marines in meeting its changing goals is, “how it should be done,” according to Benefield.
Reasons for Amos holding Choctaw Defense in such regards might include the remodeling of the trailer for the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR). The MTVR, which is manufactured by Oshkosh Defense, will go at impressive speeds over the roughest of terrain.
Some time ago, Choctaw Defense was asked to create a trailer that would be able to keep up with such a vehicle. Once the trailer was designed and several were produced, a decision was made that required the trailer to meet new, even more impressive specifications.
The team at Choctaw Defense has reworked the design to create a new trailer, one that is 20 percent lighter with increased capabilities. The already produced units will be retrofitted with the new materials to meet the upgraded specification and Choctaw Defense will deliver the finished product seamlessly.
It was a game-changing decision that posed a problem, but the personnel at Choctaw Defense were capable of providing a solution for such a problem, and these kinds of capabilities are the reasons they earn awards and commendations. “This is the most capable trailer across all the military,” stated Benefield as he reflected on the product of the company.
Currently, Choctaw Defense can create two MTVR trailers a day, which is impressive considering all the rigorous inspections and scrutiny they must be held up against. This impressive statistic is made possible by a process called “Lean Manufacturing,” which, according to Benefield is waste elimination and constant improvement.
As a part of the Lean Manufacturing system, Choctaw Defense has had to assess its operation and eliminate waste. It has stopped the traditional methods of manufacturing, which consists of mass creating all the components of a product, storing them and finally making a finished unit.
In contrast, they make every part only on an as-needed basis. This way, they can create products faster and more efficiently by removing the mass storage aspect and not overproducing certain parts that will become waste if not used.
“We never have more than a two-day supply,” said Benefield as he talked about keeping the on-hand parts at a minimum to deflect over-production.
Lean Manufacturing is a concept that has been implemented in many locations across the globe. Choctaw Defense has done a notable job in employing the concept, winning the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance Governor’s Award for Top Lean Manufacturing and being nominated as one of eight finalists for Innovation in Manufacturing by the National Institute of Science and Technology.
Using the Lean Manufacturing techniques has allowed Choctaw Defense to produce other materials at impressive speeds. A recently acquired order of 365,000 105mm ammo crates will soon be completed with one unit being assembled every 55 seconds.
Choctaw Defense is also involved in the mass production of the Battle Damage Assessment Repair (BDAR) Kit, which is a type of first aid for vehicles in combat zones. The BDAR kit holds essential articles that, if a vehicle is disabled with a quickly fixable error, it can be repaired just enough to get troops out of danger and back to a repair shop.
Choctaw Defense also makes a considerable amount of climate controlling units that control the temperature of tents and other small quarters. These units have been sent all over the world to make conditions the best they can be for American troops.
The tail section of the Paveway Smart Bomb is also a notable item produced by Choctaw Defense. The Paveway is a bomb that can be guided via computer and camera in the front end. The portion Choctaw Defense produces takes commands from the front computer and carries out the maneuvers, enabling the bomb to hit in the optimal location of a target.
Churning out so many military articles is a very serious business. According to Benefield, one third of the American budget is defense. There are businesses constantly vying for the contracts that Choctaw Defense earns on a regular basis, and with defense budget cuts pending, the competition will only stiffen.
Choctaw Defense is anticipating these upcoming budget cuts and challenges, and the plan is to position itself as one of the best. “Remaining at the top of the game like we are now,” said Benefield as he reviewed his plan to keep Choctaw Defense in the realm of success.
Benefield, who has been with Choctaw Defense for 13 years, knows that the keys to the success in this business are quality, being on time, and having the right price; keys that the crew at Choctaw Defense has not neglected, which is depicted though its paramount success.