WASHINGTON — The Army’s decision to reduce Abrams tank production in fiscal 2023 to fund new technologies was one of its tougher choices, the Army’s acquisition chief said on Capitol Hill this week.
The service would welcome support from Congress to increase the production rate at the Lima, Ohio, plant that builds the Abrams tank, Doug Bush said at a May 17 House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land subcommittee hearing.
The service plans to spend roughly $2 billion less from FY22 through FY25 on Abrams tanks when comparing the FY23 budget justification documents with the same set of documents issued in FY21, the last time the Army issued a five-year spending plan.
The Army plans to produce 22 tanks in FY23, 80 fewer than previously planned; 30 in FY24, 71 fewer than planned, and 53 in FY25, 60 fewer vehicles. This equates to roughly a half a Brigade Combat Team a year.
In FY26, the Army would build 42, followed by 40 in FY27.
On the unfunded priorities list sent to Congress this spring, the Army said it would like to upgrade tanks for another half of a BCT for $524 million to “remain on pace with our modernization strategy for Abrams tanks.”
“That prioritization reflects the Army’s view of how important that is and if we can get help there, the Army would be glad to accept it,” he said of the service putting Abrams tanks high on its unfunded priorities list. “We are ready to execute and to crank that production line up even more than it already is now.”
“It’s great to see the plant at 15 tanks a month,” Bush said, noting he recalls when production dropped as low as one tank per month. “But I know it can do more and I know that workforce can do more. ... Simply put, the more tanks going through there, the healthier the industrial base that feeds it.”
But Rep. Michael Turner, (R-Ohio) said the reduced production pace raises questions about how quickly Abrams tanks could be fielded to Poland.
While a sale of tanks to Poland was recently cleared, Turner said during the hearing, it appears the country might not receive them until the end of 2024 or early 2025.
“The tank plant is currently producing about 15 tanks a month; it could produce more,” he said. “Considering what’s happening with Ukraine and Russia, obviously, it is much more important that we get those tanks to them.”
Poland has provided some tanks to Ukraine and would need to backfill those with new tanks, Turner added.
In February, just before Russia invaded Ukraine, the U.S. State Department cleared the sale of 250 tanks — worth roughly $6 billion — to Poland.
Bush said ultimately the decision is the Pentagon’s, but there are options to more quickly deliver tanks to Poland, such as prioritizing those deliveries ahead of some tanks for the U.S. Army or other allies.
“Those are dials we can turn,” he said.
The Army is also already working with Poland on initial familiarization with the equipment and the logistics required for operation, Bush said.
“Beyond that, transferring additional equipment to them, we are looking at options including perhaps using the new Lend-Lease Act authority to think creatively about how we could provide them with tanks in the interim,” he said. “Those are very nascent conversations though.”
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.