Congress Again Buys Abrams Tanks the Army Doesn’t Want
The new defense spending bill includes $120 million for tanks that the Army has repeatedly said it doesn't want.
For three years, the Army in numerous Congressional hearings has pushed a plan that essentially would have suspended tank building and upgrades in the U.S. for the first time since World War II. The Army suggested that production lines could be kept open through foreign sales.
Each time, Congress has pushed back. Last week, Congress won again in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2015.
In a statement, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said that Congress "recognizes the necessity of the Abrams tank to our national security and authorizes an additional $120 million for Abrams tank upgrades. This provision keeps the production lines open in Lima, Ohio, and ensures that our skilled, technical workers are protected."
Turner chairs the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee and will retain that position in the next Congress. His district includes the General Dynamics Land Systems plant in Lima, the only U.S. manufacturer of tanks.
Turner's office did not respond to several requests for comment on why Congress went against the recommendation of Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, to suspend tank production.
Todd Harrison, a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments analyst, said it was open to question whether the Army and the Marine Corps needed more tanks on top of the estimated 9,000 already in their inventories. However, he noted that it was not unusual for Congress to go against the military's recommendations on the budget.
"It's just one example and it's not unique to this year," Harrison said. "In some cases, Congress is using its appropriate role of oversight. In some cases, Congress can act out of purely parochial interests."
The tank debate between the Army and Congress goes back to 2012 when Odierno testified that "we don't need the tanks. Our tank fleet is two and a half years old on average now. We're in good shape and these are additional tanks that we don't need."
Odierno lost then too. Congress voted for another $183 million for tanks despite Odierno's argument that the Army was seeking to become a lighter force. He told the Associated Press at the time that "if we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way" than spending it on 70-ton Abrams tanks.
The current Abrams upgrade program approved by Congress in the NDAA calls for improving gas mileage by decreasing idle times and also calls for improvements to the tank's sights and sensors.