December 22, 2004 in Business

Armor protects soldiers, Kaiser

By The Spokesman-Review

Aluminum sheet made at Kaiser Aluminum’s Trentwood rolling mill is being used as vehicle armor, protecting soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan from roadside bombs and grenades.

About four million pounds of half-inch thick aluminum sheet has been sold to armor makers who rig Humvees and other army trucks, Kaiser said.

The lack of armored vehicles has become controversial as troops continue to be killed and wounded by an insurgency using roadside bombs that rip through vehicles. The issue became especially heated this month when a National Guardsman asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about armor during a public forum in Kuwait.

Kaiser spokesman Scott Lamb said the company plans to produce and ship more aluminum plate to armor companies as pressure mounts to equip soldiers with safer equipment. This will happen despite strong industry demand for aluminum plate for use outside the military.

Most of the aluminum has been shipped to Armor Holdings Aerospace & Defense Group. Some of the metal is used in armor kits, which are designed to outfit Humvees and supply trucks already in use.

The rest is used to help manufacture armored Humvees and other vehicles at plants in Cincinnati and Phoenix, said Armor Holdings spokesman Michael Fox.

The aluminum is used with steel to provide a strong, yet relatively lightweight armor protection.

Kaiser’s sales to Armor Holdings received a lift last October when the U.S. Armed Services Committee brought together manufacturers, the military and government agencies to expedite shipments for troop protection in Iraq.

Although Kaiser has sold many smelters and refineries during its bankruptcy reorganization, the company held on to the Trentwood factory. The rolling mill and its 575 employees figure to be an important factor in Kaiser’s future.

Providing metal to airplane manufacturers has been the business focus of the plant, and that will continue. Producing plate for military uses, however, has provided a needed boost.

Kaiser executives have said they expect the company to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection next year.

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