With new production of Abrams tanks, Strykers and the Bradley family of infantry vehicles all set to end in 2014, and with large-scale modernization of those platforms not set until about 2017, the U.S. Army and the ground vehicle industrial base are rapidly trying to figure out what to do until then.
And new vehicle programs won’t offer aid any time soon. The Ground Combat Vehicle and Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) aren’t scheduled to begin building until later this decade.
Industry has already begun to recalibrate. Oshkosh Defense announced it will lay off 450 production workers in January due to a slowdown in domestic military vehicle production and the uncertainty over future orders for programs like the JLTV, for which the company is still competing. After the layoffs, the company will still employ 3,500 people in its defense division.
BAE Systems has also announced it is laying off 145 employees at its Anniston, Ala., Vehicle Upgrade Overhaul facility, which the company is shuttering due to the lack of work upgrading the M113 personnel carrier and the M88 recovery vehicle.
BAE spokeswoman Shan-non Booker acknowledged there has been some foreign military sales-related work on the M113. Yet since the vehicle is being phased out domestically with the launch of the Army’s Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle competition, there is “no real work projected beyond this year” on the vehicle. The plant opened in 1994.
Scott Davis, a civilian Army official who overseas the service’s ground combat vehicle programs, said the Army recently launched a 20-week intensive study during which his office will visit up to 300 companies across the defense industrial base — from primes to second- and third-tier suppliers — to develop a better understanding “of the baseline of the supply chain, while also monitoring what are the interconnections of the supply chain.”
The study, which will be briefed to Army and Pentagon leaders once it is completed next year, came about in part due to the controversy over General Dynamics’ Abrams tank line in Lima, Ohio, which will not build any new tanks for U.S. customers between 2014 and 2017. Army leaders and members of Congress have been at odds over the number of tanks that need to be built.
Davis said that once his staff did a deep dive on what capabilities needed to be sustained during that period, they concluded “there are a handful of critical capabilities that we need to sustain,” mostly in the technical engineering and design fields.
Part of that will be sustained at Lima, Davis believes, due to Abrams foreign military sales work for Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco, which “to a large degree will help span that gap of U.S. production” before the big U.S. modernization project begins in 2017. The study expands what the Army has learned in the Abrams case and applies it across all vehicle manufacturers.
Outside of the Abrams foreign sales, the Army is looking for more overseas opportunities to help sustain the industrial base. Davis said his staff has “had interest on Stryker and Bradleys from foreign customers” and is “doing everything we can in expediting any paperwork or agreements” to move those deals along.
Davis insists on taking the long view, adding “this isn’t the first time this has happened to us. In the mid-1990s Egypt and Saudi Arabia carried the Bradley and Abrams through production gaps.” He’s holding out the possibility that the same can be done today.