Military equipment parts should be made at home

As the effort intensifies to resource manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., a focal point should be on military equipment.

When a reporter for the Warren Tribune Chronicle – and Ogden sister newspaper of the Salem News – toured Tata company sites in India earlier this year, one stop was at Tata Advanced Systems in Hyderabad. Inside the giant plant, some of the 1,300 workers were building airplane parts. They were replacement parts for the C-130 Hercules transport planes used at the Youngstown Air Force Reserve Station in Vienna, and new parts for the updated C-130J planes that will be assembled in the U.S. and assigned to American military installations.

It’s one thing to have TVs and wristwatches built overseas where companies can find inexpensive labor; it’s quite another when the nation’s critical defense machines are made there. It could be considered even worse when the foreign nation is in the unstable Middle East, in a country so vulnerable to terrorism that returning to a hotel room is like boarding a plane – guests walk through metal detectors and their luggage is X-rayed.

As part of a 2-year-old joint venture with American aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin, Tata Advanced Systems builds parts that must be replaced on each C-130 every 45,000 flying hours. It builds the 53-foot C-130 empennage – often called the tail wing – and parts of the C-130 fuselage – an aircraft’s main body. The parts will be used for new C-130Js and replacements for C-130Hs.

New plants were built in southeast India to accommodate the Tata-Lockheed partnership and to build bodies for the S-92 helicopter later assembled by American manufacturer Sikorsky. The S-92 carries the U.S. president.

Until recently, the parts had been made in several American factories, but the work was moved abroad because it can be done at lower cost.

”The C-130 is becoming very competitive. Lockheed has to continue to reduce the cost because defense budgets are being cut worldwide,” said Sukaran Singh, director of Tata Advanced Systems.

As Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul said, all’s well when the work is performed by a peacetime ally. But our defense could become vulnerable when that nation is no longer at peace or when it’s no longer an ally.

”We rely more on imports than I think people know,” Paul said. ”Whatever the reason, it’s created part of a conundrum from a security sense. It’s not like you can just turn the switch back on and get things moving again (domestically).”

According to a report prepared last year by retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. John Adams, U.S. national security is being threatened by the military’s ”growing and dangerous reliance on foreign nations for the raw materials, parts and finished products needed to defend the American people.”

We implore U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Howland, founder of the House Manufacturing Caucus, to address this issue. And all legislators to support domestic-only military parts.