Heavy Vehicles For The US Army Top The Defense Budget Bill
Why is the US Army getting M1 Abrams tanks at a time when budget cuts are implemented across all branches of the US military?
$120 million is earmarked for M1 Abrams tanks for an upgrade program in the Defense spending bill revealed on December 9 by congressional leaders which is one of the many increases for the US Army’s heavy vehicle programs.
M1 Abrams Tank Upgrade Program
The US Army plans to provide the M1 Abrams tank manufactured by General Dynamics with:
- Gas mileage
- Better lethal capabilities
- Networking gear
Additions To Pentagon’s Budget Request
Also included in the Pentagon’s budget request are:
- $100 million for Oshkosh’s Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles
- $50 million for Oshkosh’s Family of Heavy Tactical Vehicles
- $50 million for General Dynamic’s Stryker
- $28.5 million for BAE System’s M2 Bradley
- $78 million for BAE System’s M88 Hercules
The Army has plans to develop new concepts for ground vehicles and would need the requested budget increases to keep existing fleets rolling by way of engineering change proposals.
Upgrade Designs Completed
The critical design review of the Abrams upgrade program has been completed earlier this year, for the integration of an auxiliary power unit to reduce fuel consumption. This is due to the decreased idle time of the turbine engine. Also due for upgrade are the tank’s sensors and sights.
For several years lawmakers have challenged Army leaders who have argued for freezing production and utilizing the budget instead of spending money on higher priority programs. In March 2013, Gen. Odierno told the AP that if they had their say in the matter, they would have used that money differently.
Failed Vehicle Development Programs
The Army acquisitions directorate is viewed as incompetent given its record on wasting funds on failed vehicle development programs. And as such, they should be second-guessed on the Abrams upgrade plan to make sure that the upgrade program caters to their needs. A resident senior fellow for defense of the Brent Scowcroft Center, James Hasik is in favor of shutting down the production line to fire it up again at a later time if situations warrant.
A T Kearney had been commissioned by the Army for the 2013 controversial report which found that the US Defense sector exceeds known demand for current programs and for future programs when it comes to heavy manufacturing capacity. The report also highlighted that with the current defense downturn, many suppliers, not just the major suppliers but the small players such as suppliers of steel medium carbon flat washers and similar products may have mitigated the overall revenue impact with other work. Reality is, the ground vehicle market is at over-capacity.
The “Annual Industrial Capabilities Report to Congress” for 2013 noted a significant drop in the Army’s requirements for legacy ground vehicles. The only significant programs for tactical vehicles for the US Army are the Armored Multipurpose Tactical Vehicle and the wheeled Joint Light Tactical Vehicle but both would not reach complete production for the coming months.
Production of about 50,000 JLTVs for the Army and another 5,500 for the Marine Corps is expected to be awarded in late fiscal year of 2015. The first unit for the Army will be equipped in fiscal year 2018 while the first unit for the Marines will be ready by the fiscal year 2022.
Engineering Changes For M1 Abrams
Engineering change proposals are already planned for the M1 Abrams in 2017 and 2018. These are aimed at revitalizing the industrial base of the combat vehicles. But manufacturing capabilities are likely to take a drawdown and consolidation across the industrial base. Some military unique engineering and manufacturing capabilities will be lost in the process.
The Army also has the Future Fighting Vehicle Program which replaced the Ground Combat Vehicle and it is expected to generate concepts and technology before a decision deadline in 2016 on whether or not to replace or upgrade the Bradley. Officials from the Army explain that there are no current plans to build since it is in a research and development stage.
No Break From Defense Spending Cuts
The 2015 versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015 and the Omnibus Appropriations Act didn’t have any surprises except for the ground vehicles. There is also no relief or break from the defense spending cuts or from sequestration threats.
Shrinking Army Personnel Strength
Compliance in the budget cuts has the Army personnel strength shrunk to 490,000 for fiscal year 2015. This number dropped by 30,000 from 2014. The Army Reserve on the other hand is set at 202,000 while the Army National Guard strength is set at 350,200.
Can the Army still cope with the ongoing budget cuts.