Levin Spearheads Effort to Preserve Abrams Tank Program

May 12, 2011 Issues: Veterans

(Washington D.C.)- U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), together with nearly a third of the entire U.S. House membership, is battling an Army plan to halt production of the Abrams tank, a cornerstone of Michigan’s defense industrial base for 30 years. The program is run by General Dynamics Land Systems based in Sterling Heights. After 30 years of building, upgrading and improving the Abrams main battle tank, the Pentagon has proposed to halt tank production in 2013.  The Army plans to restart tank production in 2017.   

Rep. Levin and Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama this week spearheaded a letter signed by 135 other members that cautions Army Secretary John McHugh that halting production “could end up costing more in the long run and result in lost capacity and readiness. They urged continuation of the program – at least on a limited basis – during the intervening period.

“The cost of shutdown and restart of Abrams tank production appears to be more than the cost of continued limited production,” Rep. Levin and the other lawmakers wrote. “Instead of reconstituting this vital manufacturing capability at a higher cost, it would seem product to invest these select resources in continued Abrams production.” 

As an alternative to shutting down the tank upgrade program completely, the lawmakers suggest continuing limited production of M1A2 SEP tanks at 70 per year.  
“The tank industrial base is not a light switch that can just be switched on and off at will,” Rep. Levin said. “Everyone needs to understand that it will take time and money to get this capability back if we let it go.”
The tank upgrade program has been a cornerstone of Michigan’s defense industrial base for 30 years.  The program is run by General Dynamics Land Systems based in Sterling Heights.  Over the last two years, a total of 224 Michigan suppliers and subcontractors were involved with the tank upgrade program and received a total of $187 million in Abrams work.

"Allowing the Abrams production capability to decay will inhibit the Nation's ability to maintain the most modern fighting force in the world and to support the combat vehicle programs of our international allies," said Pete Keating of General Dynamics, adding that a halt in production will jeopardize tens of thousands of jobs that support the Army's future tank program and more than 560 businesses across the country.

"There's no doubt to the reality of the impact it would have on our company and community. It's pretty significant," said Bruce Barron, President and CEO of Barron Industries in Oxford, Mich.. "We would have to lay off a significant amount of people with unique skills and once production shuts down you can't magically make it come back."

Barron’s family-owned metal manufacturing company produces steel and castings for the Abrams tank program. The company has invested significantly in providing the type of capacity required to support Abrams upgrade programs.

Congressional supporters of the tank upgrade program hope that their letter to Secretary McHugh also receives attention from their colleagues in the House of Representatives.  Ultimately, Congress will make the decision on whether or not the tank refit program will be continued.  The House is expected to take up the 2012 Defense Authorization legislation at the end of this month.  

Other Michigan Delegation members signing the letter were Reps. Dan Benishek, Dave Camp, Hansen Clarke, John Dingell, Bill Huizenga, Dale Kildee, Candice Miller, Thaddeus McCotter, Gary Peters, Mike Rogers (MI) and Tim Walberg.