U.S. House OKs continuing General Dynamics tank production in Michigan

Jul 12, 2011

U.S. Rep. Sander Levin’s fight to keep U.S. battle tank production running is halfway home after the House approved a defense bill that allows for a low-level continuation of a manufacturing program that provides thousands of jobs across Michigan and the United States.

The bill, which now faces Senate approval, would provide an additional $272 million that would block a Pentagon plan to mothball the program for Abrams tanks from 2013-17. Instead, the longtime retrofitting program would upgrade 212 Army tanks this year, 156 tanks in 2012, and drop off to 70 tanks in 2013.

General Dynamics Land Systems, headquartered in Sterling Heights and the main contractor on the Army tank program, had warned that a halt in production would jeopardize tens of thousands of jobs at more than 560 businesses across the country. Michigan, with 200 companies working as subcontractors, would be affected far more than any other state.

At a May town hall meeting held at a Roseville factory, the suppliers pleaded with Levin to convince more members of Congress that a lengthy shutdown would be disastrous.

They warned that a lengthy pause would cause such a permanent loss of workers and skills — essentially a Michigan brain drain — that an extraordinarily difficult restart would be required in the future. In the interim, the Army could face problems supplying replacement parts for tanks deployed overseas in combat areas.

Levin, a Royal Oak Democrat who represents most of Macomb County, said the House’s $453 million total for the Abrams program was a big step toward maintaining production and engineering work that have been a “cornerstone” of Michigan’s industrial base for 30 years.

“This is an important victory in the battle to continue tank production. Now, the Senate needs to step up and approve the tank funding,” Levin said. “The tank upgrade program is critical to ensuring our troops are protected on the battlefield. It is also critical to Michigan’s defense industrial base.”

General Dynamics was more cautious in its response. Officials said they don’t want to speculate on final approval in Congress and that it’s premature to estimate the amount of job losses if production is ratcheted down to 70 retrofits per year.

“We are continuing efforts to share the importance of Abrams production to our customer (the Pentagon), the industrial base, and our country,” said GD spokesman Karl Oskoian.

GD and other critics of the Army cost-cutting proposal said it would ultimately cost taxpayers $200 million more than just maintaining tank upgrades at a rate of 70 tanks per year.

GD and its subcontractors upgrade older M1 and M1A1 tanks to the current M1A2 SEP version of the vehicle.

The House vote on Friday was an overwhelming 336 to 87, but it’s unclear if any senators are eager to strip the Abrams appropriation from the bill.

Levin’s brother, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, is expected to play the lead role in the attempt to shepherd the tank provision through to final approval. Earlier this year, Rep. Levin coordinated a letter from 135 House members to Army Secretary John McHugh opposing the planned production halt.