Setback for Force Protection

The Cheetah, a prototype of a lighter armored vehicle, is seen in October 2008 at Force Protection's plant in Ladson. Force Protection found out it did not win a Pentagon contract worth $1.06 billion to build blast-resistant off-road trucks for troops to

Shares of armored-vehicle maker Force Protection Inc. fell sharply Wednesday on news that it was not picked for a Pentagon contract valued at more than $1 billion.

The company's stock plummeted 39 percent, or $3.46, to close at $5.38 in heavy trading volume.

Force Protection said in a statement it was disappointed by the Pentagon's decision announced late Tuesday. It also stressed that its growth prospects are not dependent on that deal.

Force Dynamics, a joint venture between the Ladson-based manufacturer and General Dynamics Corp., was among the three bidders that lost out on a $1.06 billion contract to build 2,244 blast-resistant off-road trucks for ground forces in Afghanistan.

The job went to Oshkosh Corp., which was the "clear winner," a top Marine Corps official said Wednesday. Any protests of the award likely will be defeated, the official said.

Oshkosh said it plans "to enter into discussions with other manufacturers to determine if they can assist" in the production of its all-terrain vehicle to ensure it meets the delivery schedule. The first new trucks will be in Afghanistan by the end of October, according to the Pentagon.

Force Protection spokesman Tommy Pruitt said Wednesday it was "too early for us to tell whether there will be work for us or anybody else."

Force Protection has teamed with its competitors on previous projects, but it has not built a vehicle designed by another manufacturer, Pruitt said.

"If there's an opportunity for Force Protection to participate we certainly stand ready, but that's up to the prime contractor," he said. 'I believe it's a little too early to speculate either way as to whether anybody will get work from Oshkosh aside from supply chain they've already put together for their submission."

The military has said it needs a lightweight armored vehicle to provide the same type of protection as the hulking mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles that have been widely used in Iraq. Many of those so-called MRAPs were built by Force Protection.

But the Pentagon has said the new fleet of trucks needed for Afghanistan must be far more agile, lighter and provide increased maneuverability to handle that country's rocky terrain. The new MRAPs are intended to replace Humvees.

In recent months, Force Dynamics had manufactured several models of its proposed vehicle as part of the Defense Department bidding process.

Michael Moody, chief executive officer of Force Protection, said in statement Wednesday the company was "disappointed to have not been selected" but that "our business planning and ability to continue to generate growth and value for our shareholders was not dependent upon winning" the contract.

"We remain very optimistic about the near and longer-term opportunities to grow our business and to serve our customers with a diverse array of urgently needed survivability solutions and total life-cycle support for our deployed fleet of vehicles," he said. "We are well-positioned to capture a variety of opportunities for service, support, spares, and training that exist with regard to our fleet of deployed vehicles."

In an e-mailed statement, Force Dynamics said it looks forward to meeting with the government to understand the specific decision points that led to the selection.