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Force Protection Flattened

Shares sink 12% as an upstart rival scores a big supply deal.

Force Protection

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has found itself in a bruising battle right on its home turf.

Protected Vehicles, a neighboring South Carolina company

led by two Force Protection alums, won a coveted military contract of its own on Friday. The company landed a $37.4 million award for 60 of its medium-protected Golan vehicles. Moreover, the company will help supply 100 of its lightweight Alpha vehicles under a $30.6 million deal awarded to its new heavyweight partner,

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Protected Vehicles CEO Garth Barrett is the founder and former technology chief of the company now known as Force Protection. He is considered a pioneer in mine blast protection.

Barrett established Protected Vehicles in late 2005 and hired Force Protection's former CFO, Thomas Thebes, to help him run the show. Compared with more-established defense contractors, Protected Vehicles had -- until now -- looked like a longshot player to some.

"Yes, we're young," concedes Drew Felty, program manager for Protected Vehicles. "But we've been working day and night on this project. We've existed for the past 15 months for this whole purpose."

To be fair, Force Protection has still won the biggest order handed out so far under the multibillion-dollar Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle program. The company scored a $67.4 million contract to supply the military with 125 of its highly touted vehicles last week.

Previously, however, Force Protection seemed almost like a superpower instead of a company destined to share business with a neighboring upstart. Just last month, in fact, Force Protection's stock shot toward $25 a share based on the company's perceived dominance in this arena.

The shares have taken some regular hits since that time, however. They suffered one of their worst days on Monday, plunging 12% to $17.60, following news of the competing awards.

But Protected Vehicles, at least, seemed to sense its own orders coming. The company has been adding dozens of employees each week and now plans to hire at least 400 -- and as many as 600 -- additional workers going forward.

The military "is giving a lot of companies the chance to actually demonstrate their vehicles on a level playing field and then let natural choice take its place," Barrett says. "So these decisions can be made without all of the other hype.

"We are very pleased about that."