October 9th, 2012
09:51 PM ET

Army to Congress: Thanks, but no tanks

By Drew Griffin and Kathleen Johnston

HERLONG, California (CNN) - If you need an example of why it is hard to cut the budget in Washington look no further than this Army depot in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada range.

CNN was allowed rare access to what amounts to a parking lot for more than 2,000 M-1 Abrams tanks. Here, about an hour's drive north of Reno, Nevada, the tanks have been collecting dust in the hot California desert because of a tiff between the Army and Congress.

The U.S. has more than enough combat tanks in the field to meet the nation's defense needs - so there's no sense in making repairs to these now, the Army's chief of staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told Congress earlier this year.

If the Pentagon holds off repairing, refurbishing or making new tanks for three years until new technologies are developed, the Army says it can save taxpayers as much as $3 billion.

That may seem like a lot of money, but it's a tiny sacrifice for a Defense Department that will cut $500 billion from its budget over the next decade and may be forced to cut a further $500 billion if a deficit cutting deal is not reached by Congress.

Why is this a big deal? For one, the U.S. hasn't stopped producing tanks since before World War II, according to lawmakers.

Plus, from its point of view the Army would prefer to decide what it needs and doesn't need to keep America strong while making tough economic cuts elsewhere.

"When a relatively conservative institution like the U.S. military, which doesn't like to take risks because risks get people killed, says it has enough tanks, I think generally civilians should be inclined to believe them," said Travis Sharp a fellow at the defense think tank, New American Security.

But guess which group of civilians isn't inclined to agree with the generals on this point?


To be exact, 173 House members - Democrats and Republicans - sent a letter April 20 to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, urging him to continue supporting their decision to produce more tanks.

That's right. Lawmakers who frequently and loudly proclaim that presidents should listen to generals when it comes to battlefield decisions are refusing to take its own advice.

If the U.S. pauses tank production and refurbishment it will hurt the nation's industrial economy, lawmakers say.

"The combat vehicle industrial base is a unique asset that consists of hundreds of public and private facilities across the United States," the letter said. The outlook for selling Abrams tanks to other nations appears "stronger than prior years," the letter said. But those sales would be "inadequate to sustain the industrial base and in some cases uncertain. In light of this, modest and continued Abrams production for the Army is necessary to protect the industrial base."

Lima, Ohio, is a long way from this dusty tank parking lot. The tiny town in the northwestern part of the Buckeye State is where defense manufacturing heavyweight General Dynamics makes these 60-plus-ton behemoths.

The tanks create 16,000 jobs and involve 882 suppliers, says Kendell Pease, the company's vice-president of government relations and communications. That job figure includes ancillary positions like gas station workers who fill up employees' cars coming and going to the plant.

Many of the suppliers for tank manufacturing are scattered around the country so the issue of stopping production or refurbishment becomes a parochial one: congressional representatives don't want to kill any jobs in their districts, especially as the economy struggles during an election year.

"General Dynamics is not the industrial base," Pease said. "It is small vendors."

But General Dynamics certainly has a stake in the battle of the tanks and is making sure its investment is protected, according to research done by The Center for Public Integrity, a journalism watchdog group.

What its reporters found was General Dynamics campaign contributions given to lawmakers at key times, such as around congressional hearings, on whether or not to build more tanks.

"We aren't saying there's vote buying" said Aaron Metha, one of the report's authors. "We are saying it's true in pretty much all aspects of politics - but especially the defense industry. It's almost impossible to separate out the money that is going into elections and the special interests. And what we found was the direct spike in the giving around certain important dates that were tied to votes."

Pease said General Dynamics is bipartisan in its giving and there is nothing suspicious in the timing of its donations to members of the House and Senate. The giving is tied to when fundraisers are held in Washington - which is also when Congress is in session, he said.

Lawmakers that CNN interviewed denied that donations influenced their decisions to keep the tanks rolling.

Rep. Buck McKeon, a Republican from California and chairman of the House armed services committee, said he didn't know General Dynamics had given him $56,000 in campaign contributions since 2009 until CNN asked him about it.

"You know, the Army has a job to do and we have a job to do," McKeon said. "And they have tough choices because they've been having their budget cut."

McKeon said he's thinking about the long range view. "... If someone could guarantee us that we'll never need tanks in the future, that would be good. I don't see that guarantee."

Similarly, his Democratic counterpart on the committee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, who has received $64,000 from General Dynamics since 2001, said he is worried about the workforce if the Lima plant is closed for three years.

"Listen, we don't want to play Russian Roulette with the national security of this country," Reyes said.

Odierno explained to the committee that it would be cheaper to shut down the tank plant and then restart it in 2017. But his plea was ignored.

"Lima would cost us $2.8 billion just to keep that open and our tank fleet is in good shape and we don't need to because of the great support that we have gotten over the last two years," he told the committee.

But General Dynamics said it will cost a lot less to keep the plant open. Pease said the Army hasn't factored in the huge costs of closing the plant and the potential loss of skilled workers who will be needed come 2017 when the Army plans to remodel the Abrams tank.

"It's not whether they need those tanks, it's how much it costs to restart it," said Pease. General Dynamics, he said, will survive with or without refurbishing tanks over the next three years.

So how did Congress respond to Gen. Odeirno's request to shut down production until 2017?

The answer came in the proposed congressional budget for next year. It includes $181 million for tanks the Army doesn't want or need now. That begs another question: who will likely get the money for the 70 or so tanks covered by that contract when it goes out for bid?

"General Dynamics would probably get the contract for it anyway because they are kind of the ones that are out there leading the way on this," said McKeon.

The Army tank battle sends an unsettling message to the Defense Department, says Sharp, with the defense think tank. But it's a message that may not surprise a public weary from decades of battles and horse-trading that have defined Capitol Hill.

"The fact that the military is having such a hard time getting this relatively small amount of money to be saved, I think is an indication of the huge uphill fight that the military faces when it comes to Congress," Sharp said. "Congress is going to fight tooth and nail to protect defense investments that benefit their constituents and the people that live in their states."

Maybe the next time the generals go up to the Hill, they should take a cue from the well-protected tanks parked in California. Perhaps they might consider wearing body armor.

CNN's Sara Anwar contributed to this report.

soundoff (1,088 Responses)
  1. Liz Bendy

    Here is a statement from the one presidential candidate who actively supports the legalization of medical marijuana nationwide! "The evidence in this record [9-6-88 ruling] clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record." You can read more and support her campaign on her site http://denisebedio.com/marijuana. Join us and together, we can create a true land of the free.


    September 30, 2015 at 10:05 am | Reply
  2. Carli Delph

    Great looking website. Presume you did a bunch of your very own coding.|


    July 10, 2015 at 9:01 pm | Reply
  3. francescofhang.wordpress.com

    It has develop into a regular weight loss plan for all people in the west and in Asia.
    The Panasonic SD-YD250 Automatic Bread Maker is equipped with a
    timer of up to 13 hours so you can set it to bake bread in time
    for breakfast or dinner. Make your appliances work for you,
    and not the other way around.

    March 31, 2015 at 10:31 am | Reply
  4. Antonio

    Is it a true statementthat you can over cut the lawn? I likedoing it, and do it twice a week. the neighbor tells me I'm killingthe yard.


    March 17, 2015 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  5. Vernon

    Is it true that you can over cut the grass? I lovedoing it, and do it two timesa week. the neighbor tells me I'm killingthe yard.


    March 17, 2015 at 8:44 am | Reply
  6. Corina

    Is it a true statementthat you can over cut your grass? I lovedoing it, and do it two timesa week. the neighbor tells me I'm destroying myyard.


    March 17, 2015 at 1:00 am | Reply
  7. Buford Calvery

    Hello,nice article!You won't believe how super this women weight loss program is!Click to find out: bit . ly / venusfactorN1 (write this link joined together in the browser)


    February 8, 2015 at 5:55 am | Reply
  8. great post to read

    Really want to mention to the world about a book you've reviewed?
    Sign up with the site as well as send us your assessment!

    January 11, 2015 at 9:06 pm | Reply
  9. Aleks

    Those congressman are bribed by weapons manufacturer

    December 26, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  10. Pat Millhiser

    I have recently started a website, the information you provide on this site has helped me greatly. Thanks for all of your time & work.


    August 3, 2014 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  11. Ondüle

    Hi there, I read your new stuff regularly. Your humoristic
    style is witty, keep up the good work!

    July 11, 2014 at 3:36 pm | Reply
  12. CARLOS

    I like the Abrams tank, but also I think it is an expensive and flawed piece of machinery. Well, it's proven in battle, but it does have its issues, like weight and fuel inefficiency. Not voting it as a top tank in this list, but if they solve the fuel guzzling issues, that will be one flaw fixed.

    June 13, 2014 at 5:52 am | Reply
    • Nobody

      "The combat vehicle industrial base is a unique asset that consists of hundreds of public and private facilities across the United States," the letter said. The outlook for selling Abrams tanks to other nations appears "stronger than prior years," the letter said. But those sales would be "inadequate to sustain the industrial base and in some cases uncertain. In light of this, modest and continued Abrams production for the Army is necessary to protect the industrial base."

      The above Statement by the Congressmen is inarguably true.. The skills those technicians and specialists possess are required to produce a modern tank. They cannot be quickly replicated should the need arise..

      The reason replied to you is because the Aussies solved many M1 Problems by purchasing M1s using a piston powered diesal as opposed to the turbine..Little was lost in terms of general usages.. Top Speed and acelleration being the two most notable.. When tanks must manuver over the most difficult terrain climbing etc they are always vulnerable to attack and the loss of Power would only come into effect if there was no Combined Arms Operation taking place to protect them until they could get back to flatter and or more open terrain..

      The M1 Biggest Flaw is Complexity and it is not particularly well suited to Urban Combat due to the limitation of types of main gun Ammunition and the inability to fire the main gun in close proximity to friendly troops unless provisions are made to protect their hearing... (the 120 mm Gun is an Instant Off Button to those lacking protective hearing gear within close distances . It would make a great deal of sense to build up a large contingent of Diesel Powered 105mm Gunned M1s using the classified Chobam Armor Package and that could be done with these "Excess Tanks" reverting where possible to more robust less electronically sophisticated fire control systems along with the Engine change would reduce costs of repairs as well...while both would provide a better suited package for insurgencies like Afghanistan where US Tanks have not been put to use as they should have been really due to the costs of operation.

      December 21, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Reply
  13. n

    15 . Mój własne M nie musi stanowić w porządku , jako że moje ośrodek jest obowiązująca aż do mojej produktywności .

    May 20, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  14. Digital marketing

    I actually wanted to type a note to say thanks to you for all the amazing items you are writing at this website. My prolonged internet lookup has finally been rewarded with pleasant tips to share with my companions. I 'd mention that most of us readers are definitely fortunate to live in a perfect site with many awesome people with very helpful suggestions. I feel really grateful to have encountered your site and look forward to tons of more excellent times reading here. Thanks again for a lot of things.

    April 25, 2014 at 5:55 am | Reply
  15. Frankie

    My partner and I stumbled over here coming from a different
    website and thought I might as well check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you.
    Look forward to looking at your web page yet again.

    April 11, 2014 at 8:18 am | Reply
  16. Tracey Macneal

    Happy Presidents Day.


    February 17, 2014 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  17. NYC Fitness Event

    Wrong ! That may seem like a lot of money, but it's a tiny sacrifice for a Defense Department that will cut $500 billion from its budget over the next decade and may be forced to cut a further $500 billion if a deficit cutting deal is not reached by Congress. Big problem! Every country is getting ready for war expect the United States. Build them and always be ready!

    February 11, 2014 at 8:15 pm | Reply
    • Jeanne

      Hey, the army says they don't need to waste money...they know what they need...I have a family full of veterans and they will testify that the military never holds back requests for needed stuff. But go, waste more billions and cut off food for the poor, medical care for kids and public health for us all. Smart. They eventually won't have a democracy to defend ( my veteran husband's view)

      April 6, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Reply
  18. bmw new jersey

    I do not drop many comments, however i did some searching and
    wound up here CNN Security Clearance. And I actually do have a couple of questions for you if it's allright.

    Could it be simply me or does it look as if like a few of the
    responses come across like written by brain dead individuals? :-P And, if you are posting on additional online sites, I'd
    like to keep up with anything fresh you have to
    post. Would you make a list of all of all your social pages
    like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

    January 6, 2014 at 7:44 pm | Reply
  19. KimballTV

    If you want to see how to drive an Abrams Tank, check this out http://youtu.be/J-aT2Bf5UhM?a

    December 31, 2013 at 4:28 am | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.