Force Protection looking to British market

Force Protection's Ocelot lightweight armored vehicle.

In a bid to expand its overseas business, Force Protection Inc. is seeking to strike a deal to sell its newest armored vehicle to the British military.

A subsidiary of the Ladson-based Force Protection has been named the "preferred bidder" in a deal to provide U.K. armed forces with its lightweight Ocelot, it was announced Wednesday.

The company said formal contract negotiations will begin shortly between Force Protection Europe Ltd and the U.K. Ministry of Defence to determine the exact number of orders and pricing.

If the deal goes through, the Ocelots would be built in the United Kingdom. The first batch of vehicles is expected to be available for training in 2011.

"Internationally, Ocelot is expected to play a much larger role in providing potential customers a vehicle that incorporates not only a high degree of blast and ballistic protection but also superior mobility and maintainability -- these levels are currently unequaled by any vehicle of its size on the battlefield," Force Protection Chief Executive Officer Michael Moody said in a written statement.

"As such, we expect there could be significant demand for the Ocelot in the worldwide marketplace for years to come."

The announcement took shares of Force Protection on an uphill ride. The stock jumped 56 cents to close up 13 percent at $4.76 after heavy trading Wednesday.

The company unveiled the Ocelot in London last year.

The 7 1/2-ton truck was specially designed to meet the requirements of the U.K.'s Light Protected Patrol Vehicle program, but it has other potential uses outside Britain. Earlier this year, for instance, Force Protection shipped two Ocelots to Australia as part of a competition that could lead to a 1,300-unit order.

Force Protection developed the vehicle with England's Ricardo plc.

The design of the Ocelot includes a protective pod made of high-strength composite materials that incorporate Formula One racing technology. Critical components such as the engine, fuel tank and transmission are housed beneath the passengers in a V-shaped armored spine that deflects blasts from roadside bombs and other explosives away from the vehicle and occupants.

The U.K. is looking at the Ocelot to replace vehicles that are built on Land Rover frames and are in use in Afghanistan.