By Senator Rob Portman
This month we saw firsthand the shortsighted view of the Obama Administration when it comes to our national defense.
At the vice presidential debate in Danville, Ky., Vice President Joe Biden once again repeated his boss' refrain that we don't need any more Abrams tanks.
Apparently, the vice president can't see past Election Day.
If he gets what he wants, which is another term as vice president and a mothballed tank industrial base, he and President Obama will be leaving their successors with an even larger bill to buy the upgraded tanks the Army says it will need at that point. If we don't keep our tank suppliers operating, in a few years' time no one in the United States will be ready to make critical components for those new tanks. The taxpayers will have to pay more to restart production lines that have been shut down, and at facilities such as the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, we will lose human experience and knowledge that is vital to our technological superiority.
Yes, it is critical that we balance our defense budget with fiscal responsibility. We cannot spend an infinite amount of money to keep a production line going. But our spending on defense should ultimately be driven by long-term considerations, not by the short timetables of the electoral cycle.
And when it comes to tanks, in particular, the White House has failed to look more than a few years beyond today.
Last year, the president proposed shutting down U.S. tank production for the first time since before World War II. Once the Armed Services Committees in the Senate and House saw the impacts of the proposal, we made sure to shelve it. Even though it drew broad, bipartisan objections, the White House tried to bring it back again this year.
The problem is that when it comes to future conflicts, we don't know what the years ahead will hold. What we face in the future may very well not look like what we are prepared for today.
Since World War II there have been reoccurring predictions that the days of tanks and ground combat vehicles were behind us. It never takes long for those predictions to be shattered. The past decade has once again demonstrated the crucial role of tanks for our national security, even as we've been consumed with infantry-intensive counterinsurgencies. In Iraq and Afghanistan, they have helped make our Soldiers and Marines the most dominant ground forces in the world and emerge victorious in some of the most intense combat operations in a generation. And as we reset the force, it is our duty to make sure our nation is ready to respond to the breadth of security threats -- and not just for one term in office.
The Army has stated that it plans to keep our current fleet of Abrams tanks in operation past 2050. To do that will require regular improvements, as foreign nations throughout the world have made tremendous advances in tank production.
Yet the Abrams has remained the benchmark to beat because of American engineering ingenuity and advanced manufacturing. Everything from its advanced armor to powertrain to sensors and weapons are a product of the American workforce. If we turn that workforce off, as President Obama and Vice President Biden would like, we cannot just turn it back on. Many of the unique suppliers of equipment for the Abrams would likely leave the marketplace, making restarting the production line in just a couple years onerous and even more costly to the taxpayer than keeping the line going at a reduced level.
Fortunately, I have joined with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to engage directly with the Army on this issue. As a result, they have started to take another look at the problem, now recognizing the complexity of the Abrams supplier base and the impact a shutdown would have on their future needs to produce upgraded tanks for our soldiers.
This battle is far from over. The decisions we make today will impact our military superiority, including our technological and manufacturing edge. The last soldier to command an Abrams tank in our Army probably won't be born for at least another 20 years.
This is a problem of both national security and good stewardship of taxpayer dollars. We need to make sure that the Abrams continues to be the best tank in the world and not to leave the taxpayer with a needlessly large bill.