LIMA — The new National Defense Authorization Act has $168 million for the Abrams tank program in it, Task Force LIMA reported Thursday.
The money will be for upgrades to tanks used by the National Guard, which is being asked to do more and more on front battle lines.
The bill is in its first steps, introduced in the House. It is expected to pass today, Cameron Warner, deputy district director for U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, said Thursday. If the money holds, it would provide enough funding to keep the Abrams production line warm in fiscal year 2014 at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center. That would result in 24 updated tanks produced and delivered in calendar year 2015, General Dynamics Plant Manager Keith Deters said.
The Senate is expected to take up the bill in late summer or early fall.
The bill has 172 amendments in it, Warner said. It was going to have two more, both attempts to defund the tank program, Warner said, but Jordan talked with the sponsors and got them pulled.
U.S. legislators are working on support for the Abrams program and the facility. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, continues to work on an invitation for the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel or his staff. U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, sent a letter to fellow senators handling the National Defense Authorization Act, urging them to include money for the tank program. Applying funding for defense is a two-step process: First Congress passes the authorization act, then it passes the appropriation.
Employment is down at the facility, Deters said, going from a high in recent years of 1,200 to a current 500. Most of the work happening at the privately-run, government-owned facility is for foreign military sales to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The task force covered lots of ground Thursday; it had not met in May, because the group took a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. The task force is working to keeping the Abrams program and the JSMC running. The Army believes it has enough tanks and wants the facility to rely on foreign military sales for three years until a new version of the tank is ready for production. The task force, a bipartisan group in Congress and others believe the facility needs a minimal amount of funding to keep the line warm to maintain the industrial base that builds the tank.
Mayor David Berger, who co-chairs the task force with Deters, has been talking about the Abrams battle tank needs for the National Guard and Army Reserves.
“When the Army makes the assertion that it has enough tanks, it’s talking about the active Army, not the needs of the National Guard and the Reserves. They are on the front line too, and not being equipped with upgraded tanks,” Berger said. “They have been treating the Reserves and National Guard as second class. They have the same expectations, but lesser equipment. It’s a legitimate question, and we need to put that right in their laps.”
The task force will pursue the same strategy with the National Guard and Reserves as it has with other groups, inviting officials to the plant to see its capabilities and enlist them as supporters.
The task force is also working on in-district congressional visits with Ohio’s representatives. The group is arranging visits to lawmakers while they are in their district and will take task force members, along with Abrams suppliers from each lawmaker’s district.