The current status of the Abrams main battle tank is prompting concerns within the U.S. defense industrial base.
Mike Cannon, senior vice president for Ground Combat Systems at General Dynamics Land Systems outlined the nature and scope of those concerns during the recent Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Winter Symposium and Exposition.
“We are very, very concerned on the Abrams program.”
“We are very, very concerned on the Abrams program,” he said. Noting that the company is currently “in the middle of a multiyear contract,” he explained, “That multiyear ‘builds out’ in the middle of 2013. And right now there is no projected follow-on production.”
“So we are working with the Army to try to fill some gaps between that and when they want Abrams modernization to start,’ he said. “But right now we don’t even have an Abrams modernization program that’s funded at all. So there is no development going on at all. Production is coming to an end. And our supply base has started to dry up, because it was a multiyear and, in order to get the efficiencies and save some money for the government, we ordered a lot of parts up front. And some of the suppliers have ‘delivered out’ of those now, with those parts already sitting in Lima [Ohio], ready to go on the tanks that are going to be built in 2013.”
He continued, “You couple that with the fact that we are not using tanks in the war now – in fact that they are leaving their tanks at home so they are not getting any usage at all – and the ‘spares’ requirements have dried up as well. So we have a significant industrial base issue going on with Abrams.”
Cannon noted that GDLS planners were “working with the government to try to come up with some things that would make sense for them and at least continue some level of production until we get Abrams modernization rolling.”
“The first is that we do still have some M1A2 SEP Version 1 tanks in the fleet – in the active component. So let’s bring those up to the M1A2 SEP Version 2 configuration – pure fleet at least all the M1A2s to the same configuration. The second piece – which we think is more advantageous to the industrial base – to convert all of the M1A1s – and there are 791 of them – to the M1A2 SEP V2 configuration. All of those, for the most part, reside in the National Guard and the Army Reserve. They basically have one brigade of M1A2 SEPs in the Guard and the rest are M1A1s. So we think that the U.S. Army ‘should all have the same tank,’ and that it should be the best tank in the world, which is M1A2 SEP V2,” he said.
“Quite frankly, reconstituting the base will be extremely difficult. Once it goes dry you still have to go back and re-qualify those suppliers. And that’s not something that can just happen overnight.”
Asked about activities under way with Marine Corps’ Abrams tanks, he stated, “We have not touched the Marine Corps’ tanks since they were given to them. So we don’t even know what their configuration is. Now, we have been in discussions with them several times and actually I think when this rotation comes back out of Afghanistan they will probably want us to take a look at those tanks, because I imagine they will be pretty well beat up. But most of the tank work that they do happens at Albany [Georgia] or Barstow [California].”
Returning to the challenges surrounding “the national treasure” of the Abrams industrial base, he added, “Quite frankly, reconstituting the base will be extremely difficult. Once it goes dry you still have to go back and re-qualify those suppliers. And that’s not something that can just happen overnight.”
Asked to clarify how imminent the precipice might be, Cannon said, ”March 2013 – boom – it’s done. But the supply base is drying up now. So that’s already happening and we are evaluating what the impact is going to be with some of the critical suppliers. So right now, in terms of the most critical [precipice], we are not there yet. But with some of the suppliers we are getting to that point.”