MANATEE -- While most boat manufacturers specialize in making boats to sail, a Manatee County powerboat manufacturer also makes boats for the military to blow up.
Hann Powerboats has been awarded a five-year, $4.5 million contract to make powerboats for the U.S. Air Force, and they're primarily being used for target practice, says Kevin McLaughlin, vice president of Hann.
"Finding a little boat in a big ocean is not easy," McLaughlin said. "Once you find the boat, you have to be able to identify if they are friendly people on the boat of if they are bad guys on the boat. Once you get through that and determine they're a bad guy, then you have to take an offense on the boat. That could either be strafing it with .50 caliber machine guns or dropping a bomb on it."
In order to catch terrorists in certain situations, the military has to train in realistic scenarios, McLaughlin explained.
When it comes to ordering a boat to bomb, not any boat will do. Hann's boats are made to be stable while being towed at 35 knots, McLaughlin said. Most boats have to be self-propelled to remain stable at those speeds.
Hann Powerboats, now in its third year in Manatee County, is no stranger to making boats for military, security and law enforcement operations. The boat maker, 6620 19th St. E in southern Manatee, creates boats for Lee County Sheriff's Office, the U.S. Navy and is working on a deal with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, McLaughlin said. The company also makes recreational boats.
"You can go fishing on one of our boats one day, and the next you could see the same boat protecting an oil field," he said.
The Air Force has the option to order a variety of boat sizes in its contract, McLaughlin said, and they can be turned around quickly on the assembly line.
"As an example, we recently in the last two months delivered 30 boats to the Air Force and built those 30 boats in 50 days," he said. "That was quite an achievement. That's one of the reasons why we were awarded the contract -- we do have the ability to produce boats quickly and because of good labor in the Bradenton and Sarasota area."
The latest military con
tract is an important one, as the government has cut down on spending through sequestration budget cuts.
"Because the contract was awarded, what it tells me that this particular training has been declared a mission-critical program," McLaughlin said.
Kevin Connelly, a board member of the Sarasota Manatee Manufacturer Association, expects federal purchasing and new contracts to be steady now through Sept. 30, when the federal fiscal year ends.
"This time period, a lot of federal agencies are under a lot of pressure to spend the money in their budget," said Connelly, president of Apollo Sunguard Systems in Sarasota, which makes electric car charging stations. "If they don't, odds are they lose it for next year. This is the peak buying time for the next few months."
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.con