Thursday, January 26, 2023

Crucial Industry

Like modern military jet aircraft or warships, there aren't a lot of nations with the infrastructure to build tanks. It's important that we retain that...
This should be a teachable moment: The time is right, right now, to cement the Abrams as the single go-to tank for America’s allies and partners. While the Israelis, French, Japanese British and Germans—and the Koreans aggressively marketing the K2—have tank-making capabilities, they cannot match the potential U.S. capacity; in its heyday, the Lima plant produced 800 Abrams per year. Only the United States can fill the demand of all the free countries that need tanks. To begin with, there are lots of M1s in the world—more than 10,000 including all variations. Secondly, even though the U.S. tank industrial base is a shadow of its former self, it’s in far better shape than its European counterparts. Thanks to congressional budget plus-ups, the tank plant in Lima, Ohio has been substantially modernized with new machine tools and its skilled workforce sustained. With a supply chain linking 41 states, tank production and servicing is a boon to domestic manufacturing even as it improves global security. Although the current U.S. Army version of the Abrams is the best tank in the world, there is still room for improvement in the design (the original Abrams entered service in 1980). In particular, new materials for the hull and turret and electric systems to replace hydraulics could save as much as 20 tons of weight while retaining full armor protection and simplifying logistics and sustainment.


One of the challenges in ramping up tank production is a shortage of trained welders—a problem that also constrains shipbuilding. Many of these welding jobs are part of the unionized workforce, which makes it harder for manufacturers to grow their workforces quickly. Specifically, unionization inhibits the manufacturers from immediately doubling the salaries of the welders without affecting the wages of others in the factories. Within the defense sector we need to treat welders the same way the private sector treats star programmers: by paying them extremely well. We cannot afford to have trained welders take jobs at Walmart or as forklift supervisors because they can earn more money. If anything, we should be incentivizing more forklift supervisors to become welders. Welding is a key national security manufacturing task.

See this old M103 heavy tank?

It's kind of an extreme example, but it's basically made of three big-ass castings, two of which, welded together, form the hull. The hull is 22 feet long. That's a big casting and a lot of welding; you don't make those from a manufacturing base that's otherwise capable of making only cookware and kitchen appliances.