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USA - Earmarked funds will build prototype for troops' mobile foundry

CINNAMINSON (NJ) — A local company, along with help from business partners across the nation, will develop new equipment for troops in combat thanks to earmarked funds.

Sea Box Inc., a container box company, has been subcontracted to help design a Tactical Metal Fabrication System -- TacFab for short -- for the U.S. Army.

TacFab will be a mobile foundry enclosed in a modified container box. The product will allow soldiers to take scrap metal, melt it in a furnace, pour it into a specially designed mold and finish the process to make equipment, weapon and vehicle parts on site without waiting months for part procurement.

South Carolina Research Authority, the Columbia, S.C.-based company leading the earmark project, requested $6.3 million, but got $2.4 million to jump-start design and engineering on a TacFab prototype.

U.S. Reps. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., and Rob Andrews, D-N.J., and New Jersey's Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez helped sponsor the earmark along with federal lawmakers from Massachusetts, Ohio and South Carolina.

"We're waiting for those dollars to be let under contract to us," said Rick Rentz, senior director for federal program development with SCRA. "That should occur in mid-July. We'll be going back in fiscal year 2009 with the same partners and delegations involved to request $5.8 million to do this right and present a fully deployable system."

The TacFab project is an addition to the Army's existing mobile parts hospital initiative, Army spokeswoman Lindy Kyzer said.

The mobile parts hospital is now being used in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said, and allows technicians to use workstations and robotic machine tools to repair parts on the fly in the field. The idea is for the leftover scrap metal to be melted down for reuse in a mobile foundry as cast parts for tanks, vehicles and guns.

Sea Box Inc. will use its technology and engineering expertise to design the blueprints for TacFab.

"We do the engineering here," said Jim Brennan, president and owner of Sea Box. "We can make a 3-D model and see where it needs to be strengthened."

SCRA is a nonstock, tax-exempt applied research and commercialization services company that works with the Army to assist it in procuring federal funding for research projects. Because they work with the

military frequently, SCRA sat down with Army personnel to determine their greatest needs. TacFab was a concept requested by the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Command out of Warren, Mich., Rentz said.

From there, SCRA reached out to federal lawmakers, as well as companies that could help meet the project's needs. Each of the partnering businesses was asked to contact their federal lawmakers to pitch TacFab and request earmark funding, Rentz said. SCRA never asked the companies to give contributions to the lawmakers' campaign committees, although some did donate on their own.

That includes SCRA, whose employees have given money to some federal lawmakers in South Carolina, according to federal elections data found at opensecrets.com, a Web site run by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

"I won't say it's needed, but it does help," Rentz said of the contributions.

Brennan, of Sea Box, gave $500 to Saxton's re-election efforts in 2005 and $1,000 apiece to Andrews' campaign in 2001 and 2002.

"I gave because I like him," Brennan said of Andrews. "I met him on the train one day and didn't know who he was. I just like him. I contributed before I even knew about earmark funds."

The TacFab prototype is expected next year. If it passes Army review, the Army would request the mobile foundry through its budget, Rentz said. Final production with deployment of the mobile foundry could happen in 2011.

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