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British construction equipment giant JCB is today celebrating its biggest ever order after landing a contract – expected to be worth up to $140 million – to build a unique high-speed digger for the American armed forces. It is the biggest, fastest and most expensive backhoe loader to ever go into production.

The US Army has recruited a special version of the famous backhoe loader – a legendary piece of British engineering pioneered by Joe Bamford, founder of the JCB success story, more than 50 years ago.

The machine is based on the innovative high-speed JCB Fastrac agricultural tractor, which is the only tractor to have full suspension and anti-lock brakes. The 12-tonne machine will have a top speed of 57 mph so it is fast enough to travel by road in a military convoy and is designed to be airlifted by a Hercules C-130 to wherever it is needed.

The deal to build the High Mobility Engineer Excavator (HMEE) to carry out front line engineering duties was clinched after a three year project which included JCB Managing Director and CEO John Patterson having a personal meeting with President George W Bush at the White House.

The record contract awarded by TACOM, the US Military's purchasing organisation, was a double cause for celebration. It will soon be the 60th anniversary of the founding of JCB – now Europe's largest manufacturer of construction equipment and a global company with a turnover of more than £1 billion.

The four-wheel drive HMEE, powered by a 5.9 diesel engine, can lift more than two tonnes and dig to a depth of almost four metres. It has taken three years to develop and will be built by JCB Inc's in Savannah, Georgia.

The first armoured JCB super-diggers to join the ranks of the US Army will roll off the production line on 2007 and they will be built at Savannah until 2012.

John Patterson said: “This is set to be JCB's highest value order in the company's history. To win a US Military contract against American and international opposition is tough, but JCB's engineers have done a superb job in designing such a capable machine.”

He added: “The HMEE will revolutionise the capability of military engineers thanks to JCB's breakthrough technology and presents us with huge global opportunities.”

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