LIMA — At its previously lowest rate, the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center produced about 10 Abrams tanks a month.
Without any changes, the product rate in 2015 is headed for one to three tanks a month.
“It’s looking like 2015 and 2016 will be very lean years,” said Keith Deters, General Dynamics plant manager. “It’s unprecedented for this facility.”
Task Force LIMA discussed the status of the government-owned, privately-operated facility Thursday at its monthly meeting. The conversation happened under the cloud of understanding that another new program that could have brought increased work to the plant is now canceled.
The U.S. Defense Department canceled production of a new ground combat vehicle the JSMC was preparing for. It’s the third major new vehicle program in the past five years the JSMC believed it was getting, only to be halted.
“There has been a lot of reliance on new programs as opportunities to grow the facility. And, there’s always been a thought we could use foreign military sales (such as vehicles and tanks for Israel and Saudi Arabia) to back fill our production,” Deters said. “If we’ve learned anything, it’s that foreign military sales are unpredictable. We need to focus on sustaining the Abrams.”
President Barack Obama released his fiscal year 2015 budget proposal March 4; the proposal cancels the Ground Combat Vehicle Program, based on recommendations from uniformed military leadership, saving $51 million in 2015.
The administration said the program is “no longer needed under the current defense strategy.”
The industrial base and the JSMC are in “tenuous” positions, retired Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, a partner at A.T. Kearney Aerospace & Defense practice, said in a National Defense Magazine story. A.T. Kearney recently completed an Army-requested sweeping study of the Army’s combat vehicle and tactical support vehicle supplier base.
While the Army’s five maintenance depots and three manufacturing arsenals would be kept busy doing repair and upgrade work on existing vehicles, prime contractors would suffer without new programs, Sorenson told National Defense.
“As you look at the future, a real effort will be needed by the Defense Department to keep some of these prime contractors healthy,” he said.
The task force advocates for the JSMC and the Abrams tank program. Deters told the group that employment at the JSMC will see a slight uptick this year from its current 500 because of some increased Stryker vehicle work, but then by 2015 will be “significantly lower” than the current number.
To save money, the Pentagon wanted to shutter the JSMC until a newly designed version of the Abrams is available for production in 2018 to 2020. The task force, General Dynamics and a large, bipartisan group in Congress are fighting to keep the facility open with minimal production. The group believes it will be cheaper to maintain the plant instead of closing and reopening it. It also believes closing the JSMC would mean a hit to national security with the loss of the skilled industrial base.
This summer and fall, JSMC employees will build six prototypes of the updated Abrams, but it remains to be seen what kind of workforce would be left in Lima to build the new tanks.
“People don’t sit around waiting for the next job to come in,” said Jeff Monroe, one of the union leaders who sits on the task force.