Vice president's remark during debate, saying there's a lack of need for tanks, draws rebuke from GOP

10/13/2012
BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lima’s tank plant again found itself in the political spotlight this week, with Vice President Joe Biden answering a debate question on defense spending by saying the military is arguing it doesn’t need more of the M1 Abrams tanks that are built there.

“Look, the military says we need a smaller, leaner Army, we need more special forces, we need — we don’t need more M1 tanks, what we need is more [drone aircraft],” Mr. Biden said, according to a transcript of Thursday night's televised debate with Republican vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan.

That assertion drew rebuke from Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who issued a statement Friday that since World War II, there have been many predictions that ground vehicles wouldn’t figure into the modern battlefields, all of which were wrong.

“In last night’s debate, Vice President Biden added himself to this list of naysayers,” Mr. Portman said. “The past decade has once again demonstrated the critical role of tanks in fulfilling our national security.

“The Army knows it needs to upgrade its tanks in a few years, but if the White House has their short-sighted way, there may not be a ready U.S. industrial base to do it,” he added.

The Obama Administration, with backing from the Pentagon, wants to idle the Abrams tank line in 2014 and restart it in 2017 for the next-generation Abrams tank. They say the military has enough upgraded existing models.

All Abrams tanks are built and refurbished by General Dynamics Corp. at a government owned plant in Lima.

The tank plant supports about 800 jobs.

The Pentagon has said it would save hundreds of millions of dollars by declining any new orders. General Dynamics officials and Ohio politicians including Mr. Portman and Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, argue it would be more expensive to shut down and restart the plant, and that doing so would harm the supplier base.

The Obama Administration’s plan was also a major talking point for Mr. Ryan when he visited Lima in September, telling a crowd there that idling the plant was a “budget gimmick” that would project weakness abroad.

A new Romney radio ad Friday targeted at Ohio voters also references Mr. Biden’s comment and argues that Mr. Obama’s plan to pause new tank orders would hurt national defense and Ohio jobs.

Both the House and Senate have included funding for continued tank procurement, but it remains to be seen whether that will make it into the final defense budget.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.