We received some good news this month for the Lima tank plant, also known as the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center (JSMC). First, Congress passed the annual defense bill, authorizing more than $600 million to build and upgrade Abrams tanks and more than $500 million to build and upgrade Stryker vehicles, both of which are made at the JSMC.
This funding will benefit our troops and it will benefit Lima with more good jobs.
Second, the State Department has approved the potential $1.7 billion sale of more than 200 Abrams tanks to our ally Kuwait. This sale will support good Lima jobs and improve the JSMC’s readiness to meet our military’s needs.
I always enjoy going to the JSMC. I’m always impressed with the special skill set and dedication of the workers there, and it makes you feel good to see the best armored vehicles in the world being built for our troops.
My most recent visit was in October, when I hosted Army Under Secretary Patrick Murphy for a tour. After the tour, he agreed with me that Ohio should be proud of these hard-working and highly skilled JSMC employees.
I was glad to hear him say that, because it was only five years ago that the Obama administration was actually proposing shuttering the Abrams production line in Lima.
It was obvious to me back then that it was a bad idea for our military, bad for taxpayers, and bad for Lima, so I joined my colleague Senator Sherrod Brown and Congressmen Jim Jordan and Mike Turner to stop it.
But looking back now it’s clearer than ever how short-sighted that would have been.
Stopping production would have actually cost taxpayers more money than it would have saved and it would have risked losing many highly skilled workers and a critical supply chain. Russia, China, and other of our rivals have been modernizing and improving their militaries while our troops have been hampered by budget cuts of about 15 percent from 2011 to 2015 and an unclear strategy from the White House.
Russia’s defense budget has expanded dramatically in recent years as it continues its 10-year, $647 billion State Armaments Program of military upgrades. In September, the Russian Defense Ministry unveiled the T-14 Armata, a new tank with a 125 millimeter gun.
The Armata is Russia’s first new tank since the 1990s, and it should be a wake-up call for all of us in the West.
The JSMC plays the critical role in ensuring we have the modern tanks and armored vehicles needed to deter and potentially defeat these new weapons coming out of Russia and other aggressors.
We shouldn’t be shutting down production; we should be upgrading our capabilities. When the Army raised concerns about the inadequate firepower of our Stryker vehicles against the potential new threat of Russian tanks in Europe last year, I authored a law to upgrade their guns from 12.7 millimeter machine guns to 30 millimeter quick-firing guns. This upgrade will make them more effective in combat, and it is being done largely at the JSMC in Lima.
Over the past couple of years, I have visited a number of allies in Eastern Europe, including Latvia, Poland, and Ukraine. In Latvia, I visited an Abrams tank company from the Third Infantry Division that was on a temporary training rotation there. Latvian military leaders stressed that there is nothing more important than having high-quality Abrams tanks made in Lima in the country to help deter Russian aggression.
Within the next five years, armored vehicles produced in Lima will also be helping our close ally Israel defend itself against the potential threats it faces.
In the dangerous and unpredictable world we live in, it only makes sense to always be prepared and to give our troops the tools they need. The best way to keep the peace is to be strong. As the only tank manufacturing plant in the United States, the JSMC is indispensable to that preparation.
Potential new sales to our allies and the more than $1 billion Congress authorized in new investment are major victories for Lima and the plant. But the work of keeping the JSMC strong and equipping our troops with the best resources possible isn’t over. I’m going to keep fighting for funding every year. Our rivals around the world aren’t slowing down, so we can’t either.
Rob Portman, of Cincinnati, is a U.S. senator representing Ohio.