LIMA, Ohio — The Lima tank plant will receive a $187.5 million contract from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to refurbish 84 of the country’s American-built Abrams tanks. The work will be performed over the next two years, starting around June, and is scheduled for completion by March, 2015.
The tank plant, officially known as the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center and operated by General Dynamics’ Land Systems division, has been vying for several international contracts that could provide work, said Peter Keating, a General Dynamics spokesman.
The plant has been jeopardized in recent years. The U.S. military has cited deep cuts in spending and an ample supply in tanks.
“This is one of several international orders we’ve been looking forward to. Some have come in a little later than scheduled. But we’ve been looking for ways to help sustain the plant and this is one of those orders that helps keep things going,” he said.
The plant employs about 400 hourly workers and 100 salaried workers.
The contract was awarded by the U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command on behalf of the Royal Saudi Land Forces. It continues work begun in 2008 to update Saudi Arabia’s tank force of 315 Abrams models. TACOM formerly stood for Tank-automotive and Armaments Command.
The contract calls for the plant to convert 44 M1A1 Abrams, and 40 M1A2 Abrams tanks to the Saudi M1A2S configuration for use in desert fighting.
An M1A2S conversion package gives the tanks greater efficiency and more lethal force while limiting obsolescence. It provides more capabilities by refurbishing several components for each vehicle, including the gunner’s primary sight assembly, computer control panel, elevating-mechanism assembly; gunner’s control assembly, and other parts of the tank
Saudi Arabia ships the tanks to the United States for the work because the nation finds it cheaper to do so than than it would to have a tank plant built and staffed in Saudi Arabia. The tanks are then refurbished, upgraded, and tested before being shipped back to Saudi Arabia.
The plant typically provides upgrades that meet the various needs of customers. For example, it provides a system enhancement package, or SEP, for U.S. Abrams tanks that gives the vehicles more electronics and better communications equipment to interact with other tanks during a battle.
Mr. Keating said the M1A2S package provides upgrades “that are unique to the Saudi army’s demands.”
“We need more work, so this is good news,” U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) said Friday during a stop in the Toledo suburb of Holland. “It makes sense for the Saudis because this is the best tank plant in the world. It also makes sense for the workers at the plant because these are high-tech, highly skilled workers who, if we mothball the plant, will end up having to go work elsewhere. Having to restart that plant is going to be more costly for the taxpayer than keeping the line open.”
General Dynamics believes the plant could be line to receive four or five international contracts over the next few years, which would extend its life and keep its specialized work force intact in the Lima area.
The Saudi contract is the first step, Mr. Keating said. “It does keep a certain core of workers going because they would be doing modernization of a certain model of tank. There’s a certain set of skills required to do that kind of work,” he said.
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