The U.S. Army is signaling that it is ready to retire much of its massive fleet of cumbersome tanks in favor of more effective and agile weaponry that technology has provided in recent decades. As a result, the Nation’s defense industry and members of Congress are providing a perfect example of the American future that President Dwight D. Eisenhower feared when he delivered his farewell speech in 1961.
In recent years, America’s armed forces have adopted a style of fighting that requires quick deployment and the projection of power over great distances. The tactical shift is due in part to rapid advancement of military technology in recent years, as well as the kind of undefined front lines that the Nation’s forces have fought along in recent military conflicts. As a result, the military of today relies heavily on agile fighter jets, drones and seabound vessels to administer precise and effective artillery support for ground troops.
Powerful and iconic, tanks are still used in some military applications but on nowhere near the scale they once were. And even in the event of a more traditional military conflict involving the United States, many military officials say that the tank would remain second choice to many new military advances.
According to a report in The Washington Post, the U.S. Army currently has about 5,000 tanks that are unused or in need of upgrades.
In 2012, Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, explained that even with some tanks in need of upgrades, the Army’s current fleet is sufficient.
“We don’t need the tanks,” he said. “Our tank fleet is 2½ years old average now. We’re in good shape, and these are additional tanks that we don’t need.”
Despite his assertions, members of Congress provided the Army with $181 million more than the Pentagon requested for Abrams tanks in fiscal 2013 and about $140 million extra for Bradley Fighting Vehicles, a 75,000-pound armored vehicle similar to a tank, but not classified as one by the military.
Lawmakers declared that they would continue to allocate the funds for tank production because spending millions of dollars on unneeded vehicles was better than compromising the Nation’s war-vehicle industry. The lawmakers’ decision to provide the money was also influenced heavily by lobbying from the defense contractors who produce and upgrade the vehicles.
Last year, the British BAE Systems, which has mostly upgraded the Bradley vehicles for the Army in recent years, visited members of Congress to ask lawmakers to provide more money for the machines to preserve American jobs. General Dynamics, the company that oversees the Nation’s Abrams production, has similarly pressured lawmakers to provide funding for the vehicles it produces.
The bottom line is that Congress is more interested in listening to the CEOs of defense companies than Pentagon officials when it comes to how taxpayer money should be used for defense.
“The Army’s responsibility is to do what’s best for the taxpayer,” said Heidi Shyu, the top Army buying official. “The CEO of the corporation[’s responsibility] is to do what’s best in terms of shareholders.”
Eisenhower, who, interestingly, had a long history with tanks during his time in the military, saw this coming more than half a century ago:
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.
It’s hard to say what will happen to the Congressionally approved armed vehicles that the military neither wants nor needs. But if the growing number of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles falling into the hands of local police departments (as the military runs out of uses for them) is any indicator, it isn’t a stretch to suggest that your local law agency could have an Abrams or Bradley at their disposal before you know it.