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Security: Why America Needs a Stronger Defense Industry

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Opinion|Why America Needs a Stronger Defense Industry

Investing in the sector means more jobs at home and improved security abroad.

By Peter Navarro

Mr. Navarro is an assistant to the president and the director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy.

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A Marine with a M-1 Abrams, the Army’s main battle tank.CreditJonathan Nackstrand/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On Wednesday, President Trump will visit Lima, Ohio, to tour the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, one of America’s premier defense facilities and the last tank factory in the Western Hemisphere. The story of the day may be about how the Trump administration saved the Lima plant from a near-death experience under President Barack Obama. The story for the history books, however, is about how the factory perfectly encapsulates President Trump’s maxim “economic security is national security.”

The Lima factory, operated by General Dynamics, builds the M-1 Abrams, the Army’s main battle tank. This heavily armored war horse played a key role in both the liberation of Kuwait during the Persian Gulf war in the early 1990s and the Iraq war beginning in 2003. It remains a stalwart of Army operations today.

In 2012, the Obama administration sought to close the Lima plant as part of the mandated budget sequestration process. Fortunately, the Republican-led Congress rejected that move and appropriated enough funds to keep the factory in business — but the number of employees fell sharply, to just 75.

Enter President Trump, with a far different view of the role of a strong military in both defending our homeland and revitalizing our manufacturing base. As part of his significantly increased defense budgets for 2019 and 2020, the president has requested an additional $11 billion to buy combat vehicles like the Abrams, as well as the Stryker combat vehicle, also manufactured in Lima.

Even better, spending that $11 billion could actually mean saving money in the long run. By expanding production in Lima, by accelerating the modernization of the Abrams and other armored vehicles and by increasing other economies of scale, the Defense Department will achieve significant cost reductions: Unit costs for the Abrams are expected to drop by more than 10 percent.

In terms of economic security, the Trump defense budget is helping to create good manufacturing jobs at good wages, including in communities like Lima that have fallen behind economically. The revitalized Lima plant will directly employ a little more than 1,000 employees. And plants like the one in Lima are drivers for thousands of more jobs in the supply chain across the country.

Consider, for example, the ripple effects of the Lima plant. In Ohio alone, 198 of its suppliers are spread out across the state’s 16 congressional districts. These mostly small and medium-size businesses churn out components ranging from bearings, castings and industrial packaging to electronic assemblies, pressure gauges and steel.

The impact is not limited to Ohio. Honeywell manufactures the Abrams engine in Alabama, Allison manufactures its transmissions in Indiana, the tank’s main gun is made at the Watervliet Arsenal in New York, special armor comes from the Idaho National Laboratory, and the gun tube preforms come from Ellwood in Pennsylvania.

In terms of national security, state of the art tanks like the latest versions of the Abrams are critical tools in increasing the effectiveness of American ground forces, enabling the decisive defeat of the threats outlined in our National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy.

A less obvious, but no less important, benefit comes from sharing these upgraded combat vehicle capacities with our allies and strategic partners through conventional arms sales.

In the Middle East, Kuwait’s tank fleet consists of 218 Abrams tanks, and its military is planning to double that number. Saudi Arabia has 374 recently upgraded Abrams tanks, while Egypt has the largest fleet, at 1,130. Australia commands a fleet of 59 Abrams tanks and may order 100 more. Taiwan may soon buy 108 Abrams tanks as well.

Those arms sales not only help create good jobs at good wages in America — a principle not well understood by the Oba

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