The Army says it has enough modern Abrams tanks and would rather save money by temporarily close the plant. Heavy armor is still useful, contrary to the spin the article put on the Army's views on this more narrow subject.
Notions that we don't need armor are ridiculous.
Granted, nobody is saying that the vehicle in question is an alternative to the bulk of the Abrams or cancelled GCV infantry fighting vehicle.
But at best, it is a waste of scarce resources for a niche capability. I know our airborne troops miss their M-551s, but get over it.
At worst, there are people who will honestly believe that this type of cheaper vehicle is an alternative to building heavy armor.
Someone will yell "netwar!" and some people will swoon.
So we have little money, want heavy armor, won't get a replacement for the Bradley any time soon, and want to preserve tank plants until demand for actual Abrams tanks resumes in a few years.
So why not build Abrams Fighting Vehicles? Yes, take excess M-1 hulls in storage and convert them into infantry fighting vehicles.
The Israelis do it with their Merkava tanks:
The first 200 Namers were built in Israel, but the rest are being built more cheaply in the United States. A U.S. firm (General Dynamics) was contracted to manufacture most of the Namers and began production this year.
Several infantry battalion are already equipped with Israeli built Namers, mostly in the Golani Brigade up north near the Lebanese border. In early 2010 Israel used several Namer IFVs in Gaza. This was the first combat experience for the Namer, and it performed as expected.
Granted, the Merkava has an engine in front and was build with large ammo resupply doors in the back (a lesson of Golan in 1973). So making the rear an infantry compartment was relatively straightforward.
Israeli efforts to turn other tanks with engines in the rear didn't work out as well:
Israel had experimented with using T-55 and Centurion tanks as IFVs. This did not work because the engines in these vehicles were in the rear, where the exit doors of AFVs usually are. Thus troops had to enter and exit via top hatches. This was not a good idea in combat.
Yet there is a US company with experience with this concept.
I'd address the rear-engine issue of the Abrams in two ways.
Build up an infantry compartment in place of the turret so that a rear door in that compartment would allow troops to exit to the rear over the (shielded from heat) engine compartment to climb ladders down the rear.
This is awkward but at least it shields dismounting troops from fire from the front of the vehicle.
Second, reduce the need to dismount many troops. Make this vehicle one designed to support tanks on the move rather than a battle taxi to move infantry to dismount and fight on foot.
Just have a team of 2-4 infantry aboard the vehicle who use remotely operated weapons stations mounted around the Abrams Fighting Vehicle. This would be like our Bradley Scout Vehicles that carry only a small force of scouts to dismount when needed to check out something up close.
The rest of the squad (5-7 infantry) could be back at the headquarters augmenting local defense until needed for dismounted fighting should the thunder run stall.
This also removes a constant worry of mine about the casualty count of catastrophic hits on infantry carriers jammed with infantry.
These troops out of the field of fire could also take over the remotely operated weapons stations from the rear while the onboard infantry dismounts (or while the onboard troops are sleeping or otherwise unable to focus on the outside).
We have Strykers to move infantry squads for dismounted work. Why not have a vehicle designed to support tanks on the move without hauling potential casualties around, too?
And if this takes care of the worry about shutting down our tank plants and trying to restart them in a few years when the skilled workers may be long gone? That's great, too.