First, it was the jet engine the Air Force didn't want. Now, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to build tanks the Army doesn't need.
The US Army plans to halt production of General Dynamics' M1 Abrams tank when the current run ends in 2013. About 15,000 Abrams tanks in all its versions have been produced since 1986, the current M1A2 version running at about $4 million per. The Army would like to shut down the Lima Tank Plant from 2013 through 2016 to save a few bucks, then reopen the facility in 2017 to upgrade existing tanks to M1A3 standard.
But, as they did with General Electric's alternate engine the Air Force didn't want for the F-35 fighter jet, lawmakers are whining about shutting down tank production for three years, and demanding the Army keep the production line rolling at a reduced pace just to keep money flowing into the trough. Despite all the hand-wringing over debt and spending, Congress can't pass up a troughful of slop to thrust their snouts into.
Last week, 120 legislators sent a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh urging him to keep the slop flowing into the trough so they could all keep their snouts buried deep in gravy.
"The end of Abrams production would shut down the unique national asset that is the US tank industrial base..." lawmakers whined. The group included Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC), Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH).
Defense industry consultant Loren Thompson opined to The Hill that it would be more cost-effective to keep a small production run going than to shut down the program and start a new one later. He blamed the potential loss of workers and skill sets. "Skilled workers will go elsewhere for jobs, and suppliers will drift away," he said.
Whoa, there cowboy. Corporations offshore people's jobs, not the other way around. The workers aren't going to pull up stakes and head for China.
Many of these same lawmakers howled and shrieked when President Barack Obama championed building a high-speed rail network, or wind turbines, or light rail for cities. They screamed about socialism, about government intruding in business, and all manner of sky-falling horrors. But building tanks, that's all-American, and wholesome, and full of goodness, never mind the Army doesn't want more of the behemoth Main Battle Tanks designed to face off against Soviet armor in mass actions on the open plains of Poland.
Younger readers may not recall there used to be a country called the Soviet Union which purportedly had lots and lots of tanks poised to roll into Germany and take over the world. The M1 Abrams tank was designed to be the finest, fastest, most tank-proof tank in the world, capable of roaring over the countryside at freeway speeds destroying ten enemy tanks for every Abrams taken out of action. The Abrams was largely successful at accomplishing this aim, except the only Soviet tanks they ever blew up belonged to Saddam Hussein, and the Soviet Union morphed into Russia, which became our friend because it was run by capitalist gangsters rather than a communist Politburo.
Today, the Army has more urgent problems in the nooks and crannies of counter-insurgency warfare where 70-ton tanks are a bit unwieldy.
The Army would like to build a next-generation tank so far dubbed the Ground Combat Vehicle, which is in the on-again, off-again, design and planning stage. The Army wants the GCV to carry troops, be IED-proof, have all the latest electronics, and get around town as well as off the road.
Lawmakers are always screaming about letting generals figure out the fighting, except, apparently, when it comes to the equipment they need. Equipment means fat industry contracts, and lawmakers want to keep the gravy train going even if it means building $4 million tanks the Army doesn't want, while ignoring the development of GCVs the Army does want.
No wonder it took a hundred years to get troops decent boots.
In their letter, legislators asked the Army to keep the slop running into the trough in the form of building 70 Abrams tanks that would bridge the three-year gap between the end of the current production run and the 2017 upgrade of existing tanks to M1A3 standard. "It would seem prudent to invest those select resources in continued Abrams production," their letter stated.
Come on, folks, what's wrong with building some nice trains? American workers wouldn't turn their noses up at a paycheck, even if the vehicles they're building don't have massive 120 mm armor-piercing phallic symbols sticking out the front of them. Trains are phallic symbols too, you know. All those images of trains running into tunnels. Tanks rarely run into tunnels. Tanks mostly just like to hang out with lots of other tanks and raise their guns together and.... Oh, well, right. Wonkronk is committed to diversity in all its diverse-ness, and supports the repeal of don't-tank-don't-tell.
It took years for the Air Force to finally kill the alternate engine for the F-35 fighter jet, and the Army looks like its in for just as arduous a fight to kill production of tanks it doesn't want. From the shores of Tripoli to the Halls of Congress, the battle never ends.