Supporting The Joint Systems Manufacturing Center
One bright spot in the appropriations bill that recently passed Congress was a renewed commitment by the federal government to support the important work of upgrading tanks and building other armored vehicles at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center (JSMC) in Lima. Because of the critical role JSMC plays in our national security we have been urging the Department of Defense to guarantee the plants’ future. This year’s appropriation of $120 million in additional funding for the Abrams tank program will go a long way towards doing that.
No other facility in America possesses the unique capabilities of the Lima plant. It is the only plant in our country capable of producing and upgrading the Abrams main battle tank, and the industrial base and skilled workforce that supports that effort is irreplaceable. Unfortunately, a recent round of budget cuts threatened to put this national capability at risk.
We have long advocated for policies that put our fiscal house in order, and reducing our massive national debt should be one of our nation’s highest priorities. But we shouldn’t do so by putting our national defense at risk, and we shouldn’t take actions that produce short-term gains in exchange for long-term costs. Four years ago, the Obama administration proposed such a plan—shutting down the Abrams line, only to restart it five years later to produce the next generation of tanks that the Army says it needs.
JSMC is not like a light switch that can be flipped on and off. Shuttering the plant would have been bad for Lima, bad for the workers, bad for our national security, and bad for all of us as taxpayers. The effects would have cascaded down the production line, from the highly-skilled workforce at Lima to small businesses across Ohio and the country that supply unique parts and services that support the tank program and other defense systems. Recreating this industrial base would have been more costly to the government than sustaining minimum production.
Fortunately, after significant Congressional and public attention and further study of the issue, Defense Department and Army leaders recognized the perils and cost implications of such a plan. Unfortunately, their alternatives to sustain production were overly optimistic and reliant on foreign sales. It’s true that production in support of our allies is a critical component of plant operations, and recent news of a new contract with Saudi Arabia and positive developments in our negotiations with the Government of Iraq are encouraging. Still, putting the fate of our defense capabilities fully in the hands of overseas customers has proven to be a recipe for failure. Together with Congressmen Mike Turner, Senator Sherrod Brown and others, we have been able to press the argument that a combination of foreign sales, other military vehicle production, and a minimum investment in domestic tank upgrades will ensure we retain the necessary capabilities our Army and our soldiers will need in years to come.
As our national debt continues to rise, we will face difficult budgetary choices. There are many areas that can be cut or tightened, including in the Department of Defense, and JSMC hasn’t been spared from funding cuts. But it’s vitally necessary that we don’t succumb to what look like easy targets to meet budget goals for one or two years that will only end up costing more in the following years. Fortunately, through a well-organized local community effort and coordinated Congressional support, we have worked to sustain this critical national capability that will continue providing the most advanced combat vehicles for our soldiers for decades to come.
This op-ed was co-authored by Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio). It appeared in the Lima News.