Real Wheels: Lima, where tanks are made

LIMA – The third generation of Abrams tanks currently being produced in Lima have been called “a beast the enemy doesn’t want to mess with.”

Known as the M1A2 SEPv3, this tank is the bigger, badder, brother of the powerful line of Abrams tanks that General Dynamics Land Systems has manufactured for the U.S. Army.

It is “one of the most advanced main battle tanks in the world,” literature from General Dynamics states.

Whether it will be the version of the 31 Abram tanks the United States will supply to Ukraine in its war with Russia has yet to be determined, said U.S. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth during a February visit to the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima.

The United States Army Acquisition Support Center says there’s plenty to like.

The M1A2 SEP (Systems Enhancement Package) “has all the firepower of previous Abrams tanks plus a number of upgrades in the area of body armor, maintainability, fuel efficiency, and network capabilities,” it notes.

The M1A2 SEP is also armed with a cannon that can reliably and accurately hit targets more than 2 miles away. Two high-powered machine guns can be operated from inside without exposing its four-man crew to enemy fire. Its turbine engine can hit speeds of 42 miles per hour and runs primarily on jet or diesel fuel, but also can operate on gasoline if needed.

Lima has a long history of building tanks.

Its facility first opened during World War II. The Pentagon selected the site because of its proximity to a steel mill, five railroads and national highway routes. It employed 5,000 people during the war years and produced more than 1,000 military vehicles, including the Pershing tank and a “super secret” amphibious tank intended for use on D-Day.

The end of World War II saw the plant turned into a storage facility where tanks were dismantled. Numerous tanks were also “canned” and stored in cylindrical gas containers with dehumidifiers.

The Korean War brought the resumption of manufacturing tanks to the facility. When a truce was declared in the war, the Lima Tank Depot was deactivated and its buildings were made available for lease for commercial use.

It wasn’t until 1976 that the government announced it would once again produce tanks at the Lima Army Tank Plant, with Chrysler awarded the production contract.

Forty-three years ago, on Feb. 28, 1980, the first Abrams M1 tank rolled off the assembly line. The legendary combat vehicle was named after General Creighton Abrams, one the most aggressive and effective tank commanders during World War II.

Chrysler and General Dynamics, which purchased the plant in 1982, built more than 2,000 M1 tanks between 1980-1985.

The M1 was replaced in 1985 with the M1A1 taking over later that year. Production of the M1A1 ended in 1992 after approximately 4,800 tanks were built.

The first M1A2 tank was built in 1992. Four years later, in 1996, the last “full” tank was produced. Since then the plant has been upgrading the older tanks at an estimated cost as high as $10 million per tank. Besides the U.S. Amy, customers have included Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Australia, Iraq and most recently Poland.

The Lima facility has hosted visits from two of the last three U.S. Presidents – Donald Trump and George W. Bush.

Last year General Dynamics employed 777 people and the U.S. Government added another 74 employees. Approximately 270 tanks were upgraded in 2022.

The Lima plant is the only producer of tanks in America. It is now called the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, a name-change that took place in 2004 to more accurately reflect the plant’s mission of manufacturing more combat vehicles than just tanks.


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