Members of Congress are forcing the Army to purchase tanks that it neither wants nor needs, Drew Griffin and Kathleen Johnston of CNN report.
Earlier this year Army chief of staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told Congress that it would save taxpayers $3 billion if the Pentagon holds off repairing, refurbishing or making new M-1 Abrams tanks for three years until new technologies are developed.
There are currently more than 2,000 inactive M-1 Abrams tanks sitting at an Army depot in the California desert.
"Our tank fleet is in good shape and we don't need to [make repairs] because of the great support that we have gotten over the last two years," he told the House armed services committee.
But Congress set aside $181 million for tanks in the proposed congressional budget for next year and a bipartisan group of 173 House members sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on April 20 that urged him to support their decision to produce more 60-plus-ton vehicles.
Congress doesn't want to kill any jobs in their districts and argue that tank production is "necessary to protect the industrial base."
Not so necessary on the battlefield though, since the last real tank battle occurred in the First Gulf War. Since then tanks have largely been used for anti-personnel purposes, or for making new doors in structures to aid the movement of ground troops. Nevertheless, the U.S. hasn't halted production since before World War II.
Defense manufacturing titan General Dynamics–which would most likely receive the contract for new tanks—told CNN that halting production at their Lima, Ohio would affect 16,000 jobs and involve 882 suppliers. (CNN notes that the job figure includes people like gas station workers who fill up employees' cars coming and going to the plant.)
Another factor may lie in research done by The Center for Public Integrity, a journalism watchdog group, found that General Dynamics gave campaign contributions at key times, such as around congressional hearings on whether or not to build more tanks.
"We aren't saying there's vote buying" said Aaron Metha, one of the report's authors. "We are saying it's true in pretty much all aspects of politics - but especially the defense industry. It's almost impossible to separate out the money that is going into elections and the special interests."
Despite the assurances from the Army's chief of staff, Rep. Silvestre Reyes—who has received $64,000 from General Dynamics since 2001—played the national security card, saying "we don't want to play Russian Roulette with the national security of this country."
Other insiders disagree.
"When a relatively conservative institution like the U.S. military, which doesn't like to take risks because risks get people killed, says it has enough tanks, I think generally civilians should be inclined to believe them," defense think tank fellow Travis Sharp told CNN.
Yet we cannot cut spending....