ST. MARYS — In a recent story by CNN about the conflict over the Abrams tank program, the camera pans past dozens, maybe hundreds of tanks sitting in the desert, supposedly showing government waste: If the government has all these tanks, the argument is, why are they building new ones?
The reporter says, “Most of them are ready to roll.”
Except they’re not, and General Dynamics, which operates the U.S. government owned-Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, hasn’t built a new tank in years. Employees at the Lima plant, the only place in the world making Abrams tanks today, refurbish old ones.
As for the tanks in the video, it’s one of the largest inaccuracies in the story, General Dynamics Plant Manager Keith Deters said Thursday.
“Those are very old tanks; none was a tank I’d put a soldier in. We use those tanks for parts,” Deters said. “If you’re not close to it, you may not understand what’s going on there.”
The tanks shown in the video are basically in a salvage yard. Many of them are painted in a camouflage pattern, something the Army hasn’t done in more than 20 years, with previous versions of the Abrams.
The CNN story, appearing on Erin Burnett’s Out Front program, is the highest profile of several the task force has seen in recent months with the angles of Congress paying for tanks the Army doesn’t want, government waste, and political donations from General Dynamics to garner support in Congress.
Task Force LIMA met Thursday for its monthly meeting at an Abrams tank supplier in St. Marys, and discussed the CNN story. Deters, who co-chairs the task force that advocates for the Abrams program and JSMC, said the group and Mayor David Berger will draft a letter to supporters responding to some of the information and arguments in the CNN story.
The Pentagon is keeping the Abrams in its long-term plans, but it says it has enough for the near term and wants to shutter the program for a few years. General Dynamics, the task force, and a large, bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate say the cost to close the program and bring it back up is more than the Army has calculated, and in the meantime would harm the program and national security interests by dismantling the industrial base that builds the tank. They have advocated, and so far won through funding in Congress, a minimal production to keep the line warm.
The task force is continuing its strategy of spreading the word about what it calls an irreplaceable workforce and technology developed over 30 years, and doing that partly by hosting visits to the plant.
General Dynamics is close to securing contracts for tank work with Saudi Arabia and Israel that would help keep the plant open. General Dynamics also does other military vehicle work at the plant, such as for the Stryker armored vehicle. It also plans to bid on new work, such as a new ground combat vehicle planned for the future, at least 2017.