Congressional investigation recommends putting Elgin cannons on hold

Elgin_The investigative arm of Congress says production of a new cannon in Elgin should be put on hold.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the Army's Future Combat System, which includes the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon. The Army planned for the NLOS cannon to be ready for combat by 2014, but the GAO evaluation says it's being rushed to the field prematurely--5 years too early.

The GAO's concern is that the contracted manufacturer of the weapon, BAE Systems, is producing parts of the cannon years before other parts--such as a radio system and lightweight armor--are ready.

Elgin mayor Larry Thoma says he's talked with BAE officials and they expect the production will go forward as planned. BAE already has one facility at a new multi-million dollar industrial park in Elgin.  The British defense company first revealed an NLOS prototype in Minnesota, but the cannons will be partly assembled right here.

"They have a three and a half million dollar worth investment in this industrial park," Mayor Thoma said.  "A lot of industrial prospects don't do that and BAE did that--for us."

He says BAE officials assured him it's a solid investment that is going to stay."The calls that BAE has made to Elgin is that they're still on track, they'll make a sound sell to Congress.  With the change of administration, everything is under the microscope in Washington."

A House Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday on the Future Combat System, and supporters include Senator James Inhofe and Congressman Tom Cole, both of Oklahoma.

In a written statment to 7-News, Inhofe defended the importance of funding the future combat system. "With the rollout of the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon, the United States once again retains for itself the greatest artillery piece in the world. I am pleased that we are getting these technologies into the field where they are saving lives. We will not realize the true value of FCS until we have the entire system fully fielded In order to realize the full capabilities of this system, Congress must fully fund, and fully procure FCS."

Inhofe also said early NLOS cannons won't need some of the equipment the GAO says isn't ready--and these Elgin-assembled guns will help in testing and evaluating.

They'll also benefit Elgin, and Thoma says he has faith in BAE. "I'm sure there are concerned citizens but I think people need to understand their commitment is still here in Elgin, and they're still looking at putting 150 jobs in this area."

Thoma says he expects BAE to make an announcement in the next couple of weeks about the construction of a second facility at Elgin Industrial Park.