A short history of America's only Army tank factory, which Trump is about to tour

Spc. Andrew McNeil/US ArmyThere is only one factory in the US that makes tanks, like the upgraded M1A2 Abrams tank, for the US Army.
  • President Trump toured a sprawling manufacturing site in Ohio that has been building Army tanks and armoured vehicles since World War II.
  • It nearly shuttered in 2012 under the drastic “sequestration” cuts, but it now produces about 11 tanks a month and employs a growing workforce of 580.

President Donald Trump is touring the US’s last tank facility on Wednesday in a move to highlight the impact of his soaring defence spending in a politically crucial state.

The Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio, has been building Army tanks and armoured vehicles since World War II. It nearly shuttered in 2012 under the drastic “sequestration” cuts, but it now produces about 11 tanks a month and employs a growing workforce of 580.

The plant’s assembly line is roaring back under Trump’s defence spending hikes, including $US718 billion proposed for fiscal year starting in October.

“In terms of economic security, the Trump defence budget is helping to create good manufacturing jobs at good wages, including in communities like Lima that have fallen behind economically,” Peter Navarro, White House director of trade and manufacturing policy, wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “The revitalized Lima plant will directly employ a little more than 1,000 employees.”

Here’s a history of the sprawling tank plant, a still-operating legacy of World War II America’s so-called arsenal of democracy.


World War II

The facility opened in 1942 and soon began to build and test vehicles to be sent to the Pacific and European theatres. It built M-5 Light Tanks and T-26 Pershing tanks, according to the website Global Security. By the end of the war it had processed 100,000 combat vehicles.

The facility is owned by the US Army and operated by a contractor.


Korean War

An expansion began after the Korean War broke out in 1950. The Army built new structures, including two massive warehouses that each had 115,000 square feet of storage, according to an official history of the site.

Construction fell off sharply after the war and didn’t pick up much during the Vietnam War.


‘Supertank’

The Army introduced the M-1 Abrams in 1980 and called it a “supertank” that would be faster, better armoured, and have more firepower than is predecessors.

The early M-1 Abrams tanks weighed 60 tons, carried a 105 mm cannon, and could speed across fields at 30 mph. The armour used a “new super alloy, composite-material” to protect against rockets and artillery, according to the history.

Chrysler Defence began production of the M-1 tanks at Lima in 1979.

In 1980, the first M-1 Abrams rolled out of Lima. It was named “Thunderbolt,” in homage to the name Gen. Creighton Abrams gave to his tanks in World War II, according to Global Security.


Trump’s tanks

General Dynamics Land Systems bought Chrysler Defence in 1982. The plant became the sole US tank factory in when the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant closed in 1996.

The deep sequestration budget cuts nearly shuttered the plant in 2012, and tank production languished under the Obama administration, which oversaw counter-insurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a large force of tanks wasn’t needed.

In 2017, the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center was producing about one upgraded M-1 tank a month; a year later it was producing about 11, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Two factors have seen the Lima’s tank plant roar back to life: Trump’s massive defence-spending hikes and the US’s assessment that rivalries with China and Russia are now the country’s foremost threat.

Deterring a major power like them may rely on the US Army fielding the upgraded, 80-ton Abrams tanks now rolling off Lima’s assembly lines.

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