BAE Systems has inked a deal with the Army that will keep the Bradley line moving.

The contract will allow the defense contractor to convert 70 M3A3 Bradley Cavalry variants to the M2A3 variant for combat engineers.

Work will begin at the West Manchester township facility in the fall, extending work on the Bradley line to mid-2015.

The $53 million contract will help maintain "a small core group of unique and highly skilled workforce within the company," but it is not enough to stave off the 135 layoffs scheduled through February, according to spokesman Randy Coble.

Many of the layoffs are attributed to reductions in federal defense spending and affect union and salaried positions, he said.

The York site has always served as manufacturing base for military combat vehicles, changing its name during the last few decades from BMY to United Defense to BAE.

"The Bradley Industrial Base is entering its lowest production levels in the program's 30-year history, but we continue to work closely with the Army to maintain as much of the base as possible," Coble said.

It's also one of the company's lowest headcounts during the last 30 years. In November 2009, the local site had 5,000 employees. After the 135 layoffs, there will be 915 workers at the West Manchester Township facility.

As wars have ended in the Middle East, and the defense budget has decreased, BAE has received less work, he said.

President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2013 budget outlines a production break for the Army's Bradley Fighting Vehicle program, beginning in 2014 and possibly extending through 2017.

"The (new contract) is an important first step toward maintaining critical capabilities that will allow us to bridge future vehicles in the Army's fleet," Coble said.

Even during the Bradley line shutdown, BAE will continue to repair the combat vehicles and hopes to get a contract in place for conversion work on additional Bradleys.

"We want to keep the line warm, and keep the skill sets and suppliers intact," Coble said.

--Reach Candy Woodall at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.