By Malia Rulon
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The success of the Abrams tank in the Iraq war may pay off in more money and work for its Ohio factory.
"The M1 Abrams was essentially the sledgehammer of the U.S. Army in this war," said Pat Garrett, associate analyst with GlobalSecurity.org, a defense policy group in Virginia.
It also was a mainstay on television news, and people across the country watched the 70-ton tanks rumble across the desert and through the streets of Baghdad.
During a visit to the Lima Army Tank Plant last month, President Bush called the Abrams tank "the most effective armored vehicle in the history of warfare."
The House recently passed a defense spending bill, written by House Armed Services Committee, that rewards weapons, vehicles and other systems used in Iraq by recommending that they receive more money for the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.
The plant would receive $424 million to upgrade 129 of the Army's newest tank, the M1A2 SEP. That's an increase from the 29 tank upgrades originally requested, said Rep. Mike Oxley, a Republican whose district includes the plant.
The funding authorized in the House bill still must be approved by the Senate. Bills to appropriate money will have to be passed later this year.
Rep. Mike Turner, a member of the committee that wrote the bill, said lawmakers wanted to make sure there were enough updated tanks to meet the nation's needs until a next-generation armored vehicle is ready to take its place.
The Lima tank plant, the world's only maker of the Abrams M1A1 and M1A2, is a government-owned facility that is operated by General Dynamics. It once employed 3,800 workers when tanks were rolling off the assembly lines by the thousands. Now, the plant employs about 600 workers who haven't produced a new tank since 1996.
Located about 70 miles southwest of Toledo, Lima was built around manufacturing in the middle of northwest Ohio's farm fields. The city, which has suffered from layoffs and a changing economy in the last two decades, would benefit from additional funding at the plant that would preserve jobs.
The plant had been operating with a $750 million contract with the U.S. Defense Department that lasts until July 2004. But on May 16, it won an additional $26 million contract to upgrade 14 more tanks by December 2004.
"Their phenomenal success both in Desert Storm, and more recently in Iraqi Freedom, has certainly been a lifesaver," said Peter Keating, a spokesman for General Dynamics.
"If it's (the money) finally appropriated, that's certainly good news," Keating said. "We had expected by December (2004) that the last Army tank would have been taken off the line and that would have been it for tanks."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has recommended a lighter, more technologically advanced military.
The Pentagon has started developing a new "Objective Force" vehicle that could eventually replace the tank.
Still, military analysts say the success of the tanks in Iraq could guarantee that they'll stick around for a while.
"You have to have a heavy armor component," Garrett said, explaining that the tank's durability is the reason very few were destroyed during the war, compared with other vehicles.
"It was used to counter the Iraqi military and to essentially dismantle them," Garrett said. "You really could not have waged this war as quickly as you did without the M1 tank."
If Congress agrees to fund the House bill, the additional money could keep the Lima plant in the tank business for at least another two to three years, said Tim Johnson, a spokesman from Oxley's office.
The House and Senate defense bills authorize $400.5 billion in military spending, with most of it going toward technology, weaponry and personnel costs.
Along with updated Abrams tanks, the House bill increased funding for Tomahawk cruise missiles, Bradley fighting vehicles and Patriot anti-missile interceptors.
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