How much of the US Defense Department’s budget is wasted each year? If the Pentagon’s current proposal for 2013 gets approved as is, at least $91 million can more or less be trashed thanks to an order for 33 unneeded Army tanks.
The Senate Armed Service Committee has already approved the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, and along with a handful of other military-related provisions are their spending requests for the DoD. Among billions of dollars’ worth of doo-dads and weaponry, however, sets a request for $91 million to procured nearly three dozen new M1A1 Abrams battle tanks made by General Dynamics.
To Congress, the proposal makes perfect sense. If you venture off of Capitol Hill and hound the guys at the Pentagon, though, you won’t hear the same answer: the US Army is adamantly opposed to any new tanks and is urging Congress to reconsider. And if their argument is continued to fall on deaf ears, the military might just be wasting more than just a few spare cents.
Speaking before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee only this past March, US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said that, not only does the United States not need any new tanks, but its current arsenal is far from antiquated — Business Insider reports that Army Secretary John McHugh called the military’s tank fleet one of the most modernized platforms in the Army and that the average vehicle is less than three years old.
As of right now, the Army intends on ending all Abrams purchasing in 2014 and then start upgrades only three years later. If Congress has their way, however, the Lima, Ohio General Dynamic production facility will stay open and continue to churn out millions’ worth of tanks for apparently no good reason.
Except for one, of course: the military industrial complex.
Ordering 33 new tanks will indeed waste nearly $100 million, warns the military top-brass. By ending production, though, the Pentagon stands to lose a powerful contractor. Last year, Army Secretary John McHugh told the defense subcommittee that, “In order to sustain the Abrams line at Lima, you have to produce at least 70 tanks a year.” Analysts working for the Army crunched numbers long enough , however, to eventually realize that it could cost upwards of $800 million to close the plant for a bit, versus around $3 billion to keep the plant up and running during the same span of time.
As Business Insider, reports, however, 33 new tanks would be just enough to keep the Abrams plant up at running “at minimum production capability” at a cost that keeps both the Pentagon and its pals in Ohio happy.
If that plan gets put in place, the only losers will be the American taxpayers, who will spend around $91 million on some heavy-duty toys to collect dust. That, of course, gives Uncle Sam yet another excuse to spend money: RT reported last year that the Defense Department is planning on spending around $115 billion over the next half decade just to keep tanks, trucks and planes in tip-top condition by keeping them clean and rust-proof, otherwise they may fall apart while left locked up.
For anyone who ever has been stuck in traffic, it's a tempting fantasy: If only you were driving a tank and could roll over everything in your path.
Some drivers are now flocking to an out-of-the-way spot in southern Minnesota to turn that vision into metal-crunching reality.
A business named Drive-a-Tank offers drivers the chance to pilot surplus military tanks and other armored vehicles around an old limestone quarry and smash junk cars like an action movie hero.
The ride is loud, grinding, hot and dirty — ideal for satisfying one's inner Rambo.
"It was awesome. I mean, controlling that machine, it's incredible," said Jacob Ostling, 19, of New Canaan, Conn., among the customers who took a turn under the turret on a recent Saturday and flattened a car in an explosion of glass.
Owner Tony Borglum, a construction and heavy equipment contractor, opened the tank park three years ago after seeing similar attractions during a visit to England. He said he knew it would fit nicely into American culture — a more visceral version of what millions of guys are doing in video games anyway.
He began buying up old Cold War-era surplus and now has 11 armored vehicles available for use on a 20-acre site near this town 50 miles southwest of Minneapolis. Customers spend hours churning up and down a hilly, wooded course, getting a firsthand sense of what armored warfare might be like.
"It's not as glorious as it looks like on TV," said Borglum, a short-haired 25-year-old who wore camouflage pants, a tan polo shirt and boots at the session.
But it satisfies the curiosity of those who have watched tanks in war movies.
"It was very realistic," agreed Brad Walker, of Amboy, Ind., who brought his 21-year-old son, Nick, for an outing before the young man got married. "It kind of gives you an idea exactly how hard that job is." Nick Walker, who squeezed his 5-foot-11, 230-pound frame into the cramped compartment, added, "It's not a big person's job."
Drivers sit in the small space in front between the tracks and navigate by looking out the hatch. "It's very noisy. Lot of vibration. Kind of warm but not uncomfortable. Took a little getting used to the maneuverability, but it's just ... a blast," said customer Marvin Bourne.
A basic package that includes driving a tank and shooting a machine gun costs $399, with more expensive options for driving several models and shooting other weapons such as assault rifles. Drivers who want to smash a car pay an additional $549; for about $3,500, a customer can drive a tank through a trailer house.
Learning to control the lumbering machine with its two steering sticks takes only a few minutes. It was "easier than I expected," and "an awesome Christmas present," said Bourne, 58, an insurance man from Richmond, Va., who brought his wife, Karen, along as passenger. He was among several visitors who had a gotten a tank ride as a gift for a special occasion.
Borglum said his tank park wasn't the first in the United States but he knows of no others still operating. Event coordinator Kessa Baedke said more than 600 packages have been sold this year.
One of the attractions on display is a British Chieftain Mark 11 featured in the 2002 Matthew McConaughey dragon invasion movie "Reign of Fire." Another Chieftain nicknamed Larry, weighing 60 tons and with a top speed of 30 mph, makes short work of any obstacle in its path.
"To have that much weight on just two brake handles, it's awesome," said Ostling after the tank rolled over a car and rained glass around his head. The car "was like a tin can," he said.