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In the Tank

The US military has lots of M1 Abrams tanks — more than 2,300 deployed around the world, and 3,000 more in storage at a remote military base in California. But they have a problem — the M1 has a flat bottom that makes it vulnerable to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that are so popular in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. So the Pentagon wants to redesign the tank and replace it with something new and improved.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon wants to stop their refurbishment program for the old tanks in 2013. With more tanks in storage than deployed, that makes lots of sense and would save around $3 billion.

Sounds good. So why isn’t anyone surprised that Congress won’t let them? Standing to benefit from continuing to refurbish old tanks is General Dynamics, who has given an estimated $5.3 million over the last decade or so to the campaigns of members of the key committees responsible for military spending.

To General Dynamics, that is just a good investment — millions of dollars (in what amounts to a bribe), in exchange for billions of dollars in contracts. That’s a 56074% ROI (return on investment) — not bad!

Of course, the congressmen in both houses and from both political parties that are earmarking money for the tanks say they are concerned about undermining America’s military capability, or that they want to save jobs in their districts. Supposedly, earmarks were banned after the 2010 election, but that law has a loophole — if multiple congress members favor adding an earmark it magically stops being an earmark. So companies like General Dynamics just have to bribe multiple congress members.

The US spends far more on its military than any other country. The number two country is China, and we spend five times more than them. In fact, we spend more than the next dozen countries combined. The US is responsible for 41% of all military spending in the world.

With US military spending now comprising about half of all discretionary federal spending, it would seem like trimming programs that the Pentagon neither needs nor wants (and which would not undermine our military capability), would be a good place to start. In fact, mounting deficits do more damage to our country than any enemy could do. And if Congress is actually concerned about jobs, we should be spending money on jobs that create infrastructure, to make our country stronger, not lining the pockets of defense contractors.

So far, deficit hawks have been curiously silent on the M1 Abrams funding issue. There has been some noise from the administration that the president might veto the appropriation bill if it contains too many unrequested projects like this. You should let Obama, as well as your Congressional representatives, know how you feel about corporate welfare masquerading as military spending.



  1. Jeff wrote:

    Politicians care more about their image and the distorted messages they would encounter than doing anything that utilizes common sense. Here we have a perfect example of a way to save taxpayer dollars. But the folks in Congress seem to be worried that they’ll appear soft on national security, and don’t seem to have a lot of confidence in their ability to explain their vote to end this superfluous program.

    Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  2. ThatGuy wrote:

    What’s weird is you’d expect General Dynamics to simply modify the design and create refit kits to update existing tanks and at least make up for the end of the refurbishment program, right? That seems to make more sense than scrapping the M1 all together and having companies vie for a new, untested design. The R&D for a new program might be even more expensive than refitting the new tanks, not to mention a lot slower.

    That said, I think the Pentagon needs at least enough leeway in their operation to be able to specifically veto expensive programs they don’t want. Though I suppose it’d be a cold day in hell before any government agency gives back money it has been given.

    Jeff makes a really good point. It’s really sad that no one could support the Pentagon in getting rid of the refurbishment program and fixing what’s wrong with the existing tanks. For supporting a policy adjustment that would be better for the budget, create jobs, please the Pentagon and especially improve the safety of troops who operate these tanks, Congresspeople could be painted as soft on national security. Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

    Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink
  3. Iron Knee wrote:

    The M1 originally came out in 1980, so it is probably due for a redesign.

    Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink
  4. Don wrote:

    The M! and the M1A1 were designed to fight a war in Europe. They are not cut out for urban or gorilla warfare. As low to that ground as they are, it might be difficult to provide decent contours to disperse the blast of an IED instead of taking it full on. Seems like adding armor might help, though.

    Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  5. ThatGuy wrote:

    IK, a lot of US hardware came out ages ago and have been kept going by updates. The B-52 is an example of this, though not as at-risk as an M1 I’ll grant you that. I’m just wary of any new programs to find completely new vehicles or weapons as many end up costing a whole lot and not delivering for a while. The v-22 osprey being an example of that.

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 1:30 am | Permalink
  6. PatriotSGT wrote:

    This is a prime example of what I was saying in a previous post about the defense budget and how our training and equipment monies have been cut while the money gets diverted to special interest projects.
    Congress won’t cut defense because of exactly this. They will reduce our dollars for buying Soldier equipment and training. In my state we are already preparing for the inevitable doomsday cutbacks that are luming out there in the years to come. Prior to 911 we had years like that when there wasn’t gas money for military vehicles to drive to the rifle range so Soldiers could maintain proficiency. But I can guarantee projects like the one you pointed out will get their share.

    Please call your congress critter and stop the insanity.

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

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  1. […] Some of the projects that Congress supports are things the Pentagon doesn’t want. Such as 3 billion dollars for refurbishing tanks that the Pentagon plans to replace anyway: with a model that doesn’t have a glaring weakness […]