An M1A2 Abrams fires during a United States and South Korean Joint live-fire exercise in September 2011 in Pocheon, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images)
The U.S. Army is hoping foreign sales will be sufficient to keep tank factories up and running until the Army needs them again in 2017.
At a Feb. 17 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, told lawmakers the service is being aggressive in its Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, with the hope that foreign buys will fill in any production gaps caused by the Army’s plans.
The Army says its M1 Abrams tank fleet is in good shape and it will not need to refurbish its current tanks until after 2017. This leaves a gap in work for the General Dynamics Land Systems production facility in Lima, Ohio.
At a minimum, the factory needs to build seven tanks a year to stay open.
This “is far beyond not just our fiscal ability, but is far beyond our need,” Army Secretary John McHugh told the congressional panel.
Odierno said it would cost the Army $2.8 billion to keep the production plant open between 2014 and 2017.
“Our tank fleet is in good shape,” the four-star said. “Because of the great support we’ve gotten over the last few years, we don’t need to reset before 2017.”
Odierno and McHugh did not name which countries may be interested in buying Abrams tanks.
The Army first asked to halt its buy of Abrams tanks in the 2012 budget request. However, it lost the fight and Congress provided an additional $255 million to buy 42 more M1 Abrams tanks in the budget.
The Army maintains that a temporary shutdown would result in savings for the government, while the company and several members of Congress say it would cost more to shut it down and reopen it than to just keep it open during that same time period.
“How can the Army be sure that the production lines, and particularly the skilled workers, are going to be there after such a lengthy shutdown?” Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, asked.
McHugh said the Army is concerned about the same issue and is working with the Defense Department to identify where the most acute vulnerabilities are in the industrial base.
He said DoD is conducting a study that looks at every tier and every sector of the defense industrial base, with the goal of finding a way to address these problems jointly, rather than each service going it alone.
“We’re willing to pursue any reasonable path to ensure that those particularly critical jobs remain vibrant,” McHugh said.