GOP senators seek $531 million addition to wartime supplemental bill

Extra money would go toward upgrades for Army’s armored vehicle fleet.

Five Republican senators are pressing Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, to add at least $531 million to the fiscal 2006 wartime supplemental appropriations bill to pay for major upgrades to the armored vehicle fleet that the Army dropped at the last minute from its portion of the $91 billion spending measure.

The additional funding for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and Abrams tank programs would ensure production lines stay open and prevent thousands of layoffs around the country.

"The U.S. industrial base that supports these two programs cuts a wide swath across the country," according to a March 9 memorandum signed by Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Richard Shelby of Alabama, and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, all appropriators.

Other GOP senators who signed the letter were Senate Armed Services member Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio. Alabama, Texas and Ohio would be among the states hardest hit by a production halt for General Dynamics and BAE Systems, the makers of the Abrams and Bradley, respectively.

The memo specifically asks for $300 million for the M1A2 Abrams System Enhancement Program, the minimum needed to stay on schedule to field 60 vehicles to the 1st Armored Division in fiscal 2008.

The senators also request $231 million for the Bradley M2A3, paying for some of the 318 upgraded vehicles also planned for the 1st Armored Division in fiscal 2008. The Army initially sought $3 billion for Bradley and Abrams upgrades and overhauls in its fiscal 2006 supplemental, but the Pentagon required the service to trim its request.

Supporters of the Abrams program say the upgrades give the aging tank updated computer systems and so-called situational awareness technologies that improve the tank's ability to maneuver through Iraqi cities.

Meanwhile, the improvements to the Bradley, an armored personnel carrier, provide better protection for troops from improvised explosive devices and other threats. "Both the Abrams and the Bradley have been used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan and this lack of funding directly impacts the readiness of our armor forces deploying and redeploying to these areas of operations," according to the memo, which also was addressed to Senate Defense Appropriations ranking member Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.

The issue likely will be central to debate when the Senate takes up the supplemental bill, probably next month.

House appropriators already have added $850 million to the Bradley and Abrams lines, including $250 million for less extensive Bradley upgrades. The House's version of the bill also adds $100 million for so-called urban survivability kits for the Abrams, which were not mentioned in the March 9 memo to Stevens and Inouye.

The 3rd Infantry Division was scheduled to receive those kits, which include better armor and thermal sight systems, before heading back to Iraq early next year.