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Published: Thursday, 6/16/2011

Panel backs Lima tank plant

U.S. House to vote next week on funds to maintain work

BLADE STAFF AND NEWS SERVICES

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. House panel has voted to keep the Lima, Ohio, Abrams tank line operating, rejecting an Obama Administration plan to end production at the Allen County plant.

The Army this year indicated it planned to shut down the line from 2013 to 2016 before possibly opening it again to start the next generation of tanks. Instead, the House Appropriations Committee this week added $272 million to the Army's budget request of $181.3 million, ordering it to continue buying M1A2 Abrams tanks.

The program has a more than $100 million economic impact on Ohio, according to U.S. Rep. Steve Austria, a Beavercreek, Ohio, Republican and a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Peter Keating, a spokesman for General Dynamics Land Systems, which operates the government-owned Lima plant, said the vote by the committee was "a very positive outcome and the result of a lot of good work by Congressman [Marcy] Kaptur and Ohio's senators."

However, Mr. Keating said, the measure goes to the full House next week, and "there is some danger in that there may be a floor amendment to take away the money."

If it is passed by the House, the measure has support in the Senate from senators from Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, he added.

But, Mr. Keating cautioned, "We don't want to be overly confident on this."

The $272 million would be used to upgrade the Army's oldest tanks, the M1A1 Abrams, and option them to National Guard units.

The money would pay for upgrades to about 60 or 70 tanks beginning after June, 2013, and last about a year.

The extra time would give the Army a chance to conduct studies and re-evaluate its plan to shut the Lima plant for an extended period.

"When you just shut the plant, people leave, they take specific skills and go elsewhere, and suppliers won't stay around for three or four years without any production," Mr. Keating said. "Maybe now is not the time to just cut jobs and think that in three or four years you can just bring back people to do the work."

All but two members of Ohio's House delegation signed a letter this year to Army Secretary John McHugh arguing against shutting down production at the northwest Ohio facility. They said that closing the line and re-opening it would cost more than continuing production. In all, 137 House members signed the letter.

The funding approved by the committee was part of a larger $530 billion defense-spending bill.



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