Bipartisan Push to Buy Tanks Army Doesn’t Need

If you want a perfect microcosm of what is broken about our political system, look no further than this story about a push in Congress to continue funding the production of a tank that the military says it doesn’t want or need. Why? Because it brings jobs to a key swing state.

Yet in the case of the Abrams tank, there’s a bipartisan push to spend an extra $436 million on a weapon the experts explicitly say is not needed.

“If we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, told The Associated Press this past week.

Why are the tank dollars still flowing? Politics.

Keeping the Abrams production line rolling protects businesses and good paying jobs in congressional districts where the tank’s many suppliers are located.

If there’s a home of the Abrams, it’s politically important Ohio. The nation’s only tank plant is in Lima. So it’s no coincidence that the champions for more tanks are Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Rob Portman, two of Capitol’s Hill most prominent deficit hawks, as well as Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. They said their support is rooted in protecting national security, not in pork-barrel politics.

“The one area where we are supposed to spend taxpayer money is in defense of the country,” said Jordan, whose district in the northwest part of the state includes the tank plant.

Funny how just about the only things that you can get truly bipartisan agreement on in Washington are A) spending money that no one wants spent and B) flagrantly shredding the constitution in the name of stopping terrorism. Oh, and wars. Both parties usually line up to support any war that is proposed.

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  • imrryr

    But we need those tanks we don’t need in order to fight the wars we don’t need to fight!

  • =8)-DX

    And then when it really comes down to a decision in congress, as to whether to go to war with Iran, they can stand up and say “but look at all these tanks we having lying around idly doing nothing? We have to go for a ground invasion otherwise what have we been spending all this money in preparations for?”

  • Mr Ed

    You’ll be glad you have them when the Soviets come pouring through the Fulda gap.

  • Main battle tanks are just the thing for fighting insurgencies. Especially insurgencies that we wouldn’t have to fight if we didn’t go invading other countries to bomb them forward into a version of American consumer culture.

  • I could see buying some Abrams tanks on a regular basis to replace ones that wear out during exercises/training or from unusual circumstances (collisions, tank shelters collapsing, and the like) while the Abrams is still the main battle tank of the US Army.

    But I’m guessing this involves a lot more money than is necessary for such a purpose.

    If Congress absolutely felt it had to spend the money earmarked for buying military equipment, surely it could, you know, listen to the armed services and buy the equipment they say they need/want.

    (Or of course, it could cut back… but I jest! That’s asking too much of Congress.)

  • M, Supreme Anarch of the Queer Illuminati

    Keeping the Abrams production line rolling protects businesses and good paying jobs

    You know what else produces well-paying jobs? Healthcare. Even if that money must be spent on something military-related, couldn’t we use it to fix the veterans’ medical system?

    But I suppose that wouldn’t be “supporting the troops.”

  • If you think this story makes you throw up a little bit, there’s also this one:

    the money shot:

    To be fair, the Air Force did request some C-130s. Thanks to Senator John McCain, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) did a study of how many more C-130s the Air Force requested between 1978 and 1998. The answer: Five.

    How many did Congress add on? Two hundred and fifty-six.

  • You know what else produces well-paying jobs? Healthcare

    So does improving our electronic infrastructure, or doing technological (non military) R&D, or building better buildings and public transport.

    The problem is that Lockheed Martin et al can’t compete in the civilian marketplace because they’re used to selling $15,000 toilet seats. Admittedly, those toilet seats have to be that expensive because they’re specially made one-offs to fit in the weird dimensions of an Aegis missile boat’s head, but that level of goofy engineering would be welcome at NASA or CERN or Google.

  • replace ones that wear out during exercises/training or from unusual circumstances (collisions, tank shelters collapsing, and the like) while the Abrams is still the main battle tank of the US Army.

    Do you know how many Abrams tanks have been lost since the program started? It’s something under a dozen, closer to a half dozen. That’s including the ones that we decommissioned because they got hit by so many RPGs in Baghdad that the integrity of the armor was not up to par. The one that burned from insurgent fire in Baghdad was refitted with a new engine and gas tanks and was pretty much ready to roll after a new paint job. The thing about tanks is they’re tough. It’s not like in WWII where tanks were going up against other tanks that could punch holes through their armor, lengthwise (as a kid I remember being constantly amazed by the Jagdpanzer at Aberdeen Proving ground with the hole that goes in the front and comes out the back…)

    Meanwhile, the army decomissioned all of the old vietnam-era M-113s (sold them to Egypt and someone’s pocket got lined, belike) and was stuck in Afghanistan and Iraq trying to turn humvees into armored personnel carriers, which is somewhat like trying to turn a deer’s carcass into a safe deposit box. You start with a safe deposit box, and throw away the deer’s carcass.

  • Urr, the point of that last paragraph was that if they were going to spend money on armored vehicles, they should be spending money on armored vehicles that make sense given the kind of low-intensity conflict scenarios we expect for the next 25 years, not the full-up tank on tank engagements of Kursk or Golan or 73 easting.*

    (*73 easting wasn’t strictly necessary; it could have been done with a couple of A-10s but the army tankers really really wanted to get their shot at killing and maiming a lot of people.)

  • lorn

    There is a good argument to be made that low-level production has advantages over stopping production of long lead-time hardware. At least it does if there is any possible chance you may , at some time in the future, want more. An assembly line is a complex system of space, machinery, specialized tools, custom-made cutters and jigs, and highly trained workers who know both the materials and the particular assembly they work on. Once the line is broken down and sold off, and the workers released and allowed to scatter to the wind it takes years to reassemble the line and relearn the methodologies. And months or years to regain the know-how and proficiency by people doing the work.

    In similar cases involving air frames the conclusion was that stopping production for anything less than two years was a waste of time and effort if your intention was to restart production later and that efficiency and quality might suffer for over a year after production was restarted.

    Tanks are one of those things where if/when you need them they are vital. Tanks are in a class by themselves for morale and psychological impact.

    You better have all you need on hand when you need them because it will take years to roll one off an assembly line if you have to build the line and train the people from scratch. Second, once produced they can be mothballed for years and readied in a few weeks.

  • We have to build those improved Abrams. Do you think Al Qaeda is slowing its tank production lines? No! Mister President, we can’t allow a tank production gap!

  • flyingsquidwithgoggles

    The twist is that the Soviets discovered that time travel works… as long as you want to go to THE FUTURE!

  • velociraptor

    @ Marcus Ranum

    As a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, I can tell you that an M-113 would have been blown to pieces in either theatre, with the added bonus of being more difficult to get out of when on fire. Don’t wish that paperweight on anyone.

  • This is exactly what Eisenhower warned us about. The military-industrial-Congressional coalition to keep spending taxpayer money on things we don’t need. It spread like an invasive tumor to districts all around the country several decades ago. And it would be just as hard to kill.

  • slc1

    Re velociraptor @ #14

    An M-113 is not a tank,it’s an APC.

  • velociraptor


    1. slc1, having been in an M-981, a variant of the M-113, I am well aware that it is an APC. Fail. Your statement changes nothing about what Marcus said and my response to it.

    2. The day you know about more than I do about things military is the day I start pushing up daisies.

    3. When are you going to enlist in the IDF?

  • NitricAcid

    @7 Don’t you see? It’s cheaper to buy in bulk!

  • kyoseki

    If it makes anyone feel any better, apparently the military just saved $300m by scrapping the program to find a replacement for the M-4 Carbine (the military version of the AR-15):

    Now admittedly, that’s only about 35 tanks, but hey, it’s a start 🙂