Abrams Tanks v. the U.S. Army: Pentagon Wins This Round

Alexander Ostrovsky

 

 

On March 18, after 69 years of being stationed on German soil, the US Army loaded up the last remaining Abrams tanks and shipped them home to South Carolina. This will mark the first time that not a single U.S. tank is present on the European Continent since the first Sherman tanks landed on D-Day. The tanks, along with their corresponding armored divisions, were stationed there initially as a main combat feature throughout the Cold War. Modern realignments have altered the military landscape along with prospects of future conflicts which have shifted away from the type of heavy land battles that tanks are required for. As political and military realities shift and the historical presence of tanks as main combat tools is scaled back, the battle over the tanks has found a new frontier in Congress, concerning political posturing and defense budget cuts. 

 

Once the sequester took hold, a large portion of cost-cutting would come from the Defense Department, requiring that the most well-funded military in the world trim down. Amongst many cost-saving initiatives, the Pentagon proposed shunning the production of any new Abrams tanks. Just as with the existing tanks being shipped out of Germany, the Abrams tank was no longer a necessary tool for today’s modern conflicts. The Pentagon explicitly stated that they already had too many tanks and did not want more of them, but as the Washington Times reported, “Congress has authorized almost half-a-billion dollars over two years to build Abrams tanks for the Army.  But the Army has said it currently doesn’t need any tanks, and the money would be better used elsewhere. ‘If we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way,’ Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, said.’”

 

By going against the recommendations and budgetary requirements of the Army, Congress has voted to spend an extra $436 Million to continue production of the Abrams tank. However if the Army doesn’t want them then what is the motivation for Congress to force their production? The Huffington Post explained by clarifying, “If there's a home of the Abrams, it's politically important Ohio. The nation's only tank plant is in Lima. So it's no coincidence that the champions for more tanks are Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Rob Portman.”

 

Since the closing of the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant in 1996, the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center (Also known as the Lima Army Tank Plant) where the M-1 Abrams tank is manufactured has been the only operating tank plant left in the country. Closing the only American tank plant remaining, or at least temporarily as the army has proposed to do from 2014-2017, poses a few issues. The initial argument is that losing the key knowledge capital of how to manufacture large-scale tanks, as well as disrupting the industrial base, is dangerous to national security.

 

The argument goes that if in the future it is necessary to suddenly begin producing tanks again, we will not be able to do so as efficiently. However, the Army was never insisting upon completely shutting down all future full production of the Abrams tank. Tank production would only stop until 2017, and then the Army had planned to ramp up production on a newly designed Abrams tank. The Huffington Post reported that, “’This pause in tank production for the U.S. would allow the Army to spend its money on research and development work for the new and improved model, said Ashley Givens, a spokeswoman for the Army's Ground Combat Systems office.’”

 

 

If the Army sticks to its chosen timetable, then the knowledge capital loss argument holds less weight. Building a more modern Abrams tank, along with research and development, would mean further training and manufacturing advancement that will only help bolster the process. However the argument over knowledge capital has more to do with Lima, Ohio.

 

The most contested argument over ceasing production on the Abrams tank has more to do with the realities of military pork spending in political districts. The plant employs around 700 people in the important manufacturing sector, and these workers along with the community count on the economic benefits from the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the Abrams tanks. It is therefore no surprise that the senators and representatives who answer to the northwest constituencies in Ohio fought the loudest to force continued production of the Abrams tank.

 

Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican congressman known as a deficit hawk, insists that his drive to continue tank production has nothing to do with pork barrel spending, but as reported by the Washington Times, “‘My job is to represent the 4th Congressional District […] ‘But the fact remains, if it was not in the best interests of the national defense for the United States of America, then you would not see me supporting it like we do.’” This is questionable logic since the Defense Department has ardently maintained that it does not need any more tanks and that a half-billion dollars could be better utilized toward more pressing budgetary needs or newer technology better fit for modern warfare.

 

Representative Jordan, whose district includes the tank plant, has gone on to insist that we are supposed to spend taxpayer money in defense of the country, however, as Business Insider reported, “The only problem with this statement is that the Pentagon doesn’t want the tank. It’s an effective weapon if you’re trying to take Berlin from the Nazis. But it has no practical use in combating the threats the United States faces today.”

 

For more than 70 years, the Army has been purchasing tanks at a continuous pace, however with the changed military landscape, the need for the Abrams tank has diminished. Continued production of the older models has as much to do with politics as it does with the security of our nation. The Pentagon understands its own needs. Moreover, since it is tasked with maintaining U.S. armed forces, it has no reason to reject funding for weaponry, unless the weaponry is outdated for the modern threats that we face.

 

Author Bio:

Alexander Ostrovsky is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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