By Tony Bertuca
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) singled out the Abrams tank last week as one of many programs for which the Army wants significantly less than the amount Congress is preparing to authorize in fiscal year 2014, despite the need to pay for billions in sequestration cuts.
Chambliss questioned Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno about the tank controversy during a Nov. 7 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Chambliss said he was expecting to receive a list of programs from the Pentagon that it does not want to spend money on despite additional, unrequested funds mandated by Congress.
“I think one item that will be on that list, Gen. Odierno, is the purchase of Abrams tanks that you have been somewhat vocal on, that Congress keeps demanding that you buy, that you don’t need,” Chambliss said. “Now is that still the case — that you would prefer to spend that money somewhere else?”
Odierno said the Army had not changed its stance on the Abrams funding.
“We have the most modernized tank fleet we’ve ever had right now,” he said. “It is in great shape. In fact, we’re reducing our force structure so we’re going to need less tanks, but yet we’re purchasing more tanks that we don’t need. And so the savings could be used in many different areas of our modernization programs that we need — for example, aviation.”
The Abrams controversy dates to 2011 and involves a politically important manufacturing facility in Lima, OH.In the past, the Army has sought to pause spending on the Abrams until 2019 and has been rebuffed by lawmakers, who, at the behest of tank contractor General Dynamics Land Systems, assert that the service’s plans to halt spending will endanger the defense industrial base.
The Army has requested $178 million for Abrams efforts in FY-14, but Senate appropriators added $90 million to the account in their proposed spending bill, setting up a potential standoff with House appropriators, who declined to plus-up the program in their version of the bill. House and Senate authorizers, meanwhile, have both proposed pumping up the Army’s Abrams request by an additional $168 million.
Chambliss said that the Army expects to save anywhere between $436 million to $3 billion over three years if it halts Abrams procurement until 2017. “I don’t know what the exact number is but either of those is pretty significant,” he said. “As we go into the authorization bill rest assured that it’s issues like this that are going to be addressed.”
The Army does not have plans for any large Abrams spending until a major upgrade effort slated to kick off in 2019. Until then, Congress, GDLS and the Army are working to find ways to preserve the minimum sustainment rate of 150 Abrams tanks per year through foreign military sales. The Egyptian government was seen as a large player in that effort, but the fate of Abrams sales to that nation has been thrown into limbo given a recent edict by the American government that all weapons sales to Egypt will cease for the foreseeable future (Inside the Army, Oct. 14).
Meanwhile, the Army has hired a third-party firm to complete a report on the state of the nation’s combat vehicle defense industrial base by December. A preliminary copy of the report obtained by ITA states that the nation’s combat vehicle industrial base has significant manufacturing redundancy that could be consolidated.
“The redundancy in capability across the manufacturing network may present an opportunity for consolidation,” the report states. “Analysis determined that current network capacity exceeds known demand for current programs and for planned future programs. . . . The analysis showed that large structure machining capability would not be a limiting factor for the current and future needs of the combat vehicle base.”