General Acounting Office takes aim at Army's controversial M1 tank

In its rush to confront Soviet armored forces with a new tank, the US Army neglected to ensure that its chosen weapon -- the Chrysler M1 Abrams -- could be supported in battle, the General Accounting Office says.

In a just-released report, the GAO asserts that the Army has yet to demonstrate that the M1 can be supported logistically and that it is "sufficiently reliable, available, maintainable [and] durable" to be effective in combat.

The Army accepts many of the major criticisms in the GAO report, declaring that numerous steps are being taken to resolve or minimize the impact of the problems highlighted by the agency.

"The Army is committed to proceeding with M1 production buildup and deployment plans while recognizing the near-term potential for supportability problems," observed Arthur Daoulas, acting assistant secretary of the Army for research, development, and acquisition, in responding to the GAO report. "We anticipate some problems and are developing ways to minimize these problems until they are successfully resolved."

Essentially, the GAO report asserts that the Army "failed to adequately consider" what is known as integrated logistics support (ILS) planning and as a result did not develop the tank and its logistic support elements on an integrated basis.

In the words of the report, ILS planning is designed to ensure "that the ultimate user will receive a system that will not only meet performance requirements, but one which also can be expeditiously and economically supported throughout its . . . life cycle."

In planning the M1, the GAO asserts, the pressures to obtain specific performance goals, such as survivability, speed, range, and firepower, within tight time and cost restraints, led the Army "to make trade-offs or to not give adequate attention to long-term ownership consideratiions."

The congressional watchdog agency stresses the importance of ILS planning, pointing out that ownership costs account for as much as 90 percent of the total cost of a weapon system, whereas acquisition costs comprise only 10 percent.

In developing the M1, the GAO says, the Army has not taken full advantage of a concept known as "life-cycle costing," which takes into account the total cost of a weapon's development, procurement, and ownership. "The acquisition cost, as opposed to the total ownership cost, has been the dominant criterion on which M1 component and design selections were based," it maintains.

The Army's stress on keeping acquisition costs to a minimum, the watchdog agency says, stems from its unhappy memory of two earlier tank programs -- the MBT70 and XM803 -- that were abandoned as excessively expensive.

In its effort to hold down the tank's price tag, the Army permitted Chrysler to select nonstandard items for the M1, "even though an acceptable alternative may already be stocked in the military supply system," the report says. Though conceding that it may be cheaper to buy new items than to use those already stocked, the GAO points out that new items "may result in increased life-cycle costs because of the need for cataloging, storage, inventory management, and increased maintenance requirements."

Because the M1 has been continuously modified since some $428 million worth of spare and repair parts were ordered for it, "the Army may need to revise current spares delivery schedules to preclude the stockage of parts which may be obsolete before they are needed," the GAO report observes.

It adds that the Chrysler-operated Lima Army Tank Plant in Lima, Ohio, which should be producing 30 M1s a month, is producing only 10 to 15.

And the tank is still suffering performance problems. For instance, M1 tracks are supposed to last for 2,000 miles but seem able to survive for only 850.

In supporting a weapon system, test equipment and technical manuals are important resources, observes the GAO. But the report finds the manuals "poorly organized" and "frequently . . . inaccurate" because they have been developed from drawing rather than from the tank itself.

GAO investigators were told that while the tank's operational effectiveness is far superior to that of existing tanks, it is poorly designed with respect to ease of upkeep.

The GAO expressed concern about the availability of M1 resupply vehicles; of properly trained troops to support the tank in the field; and of adequately trained reserve personnel to support M1 ac tive forces in the event of mobilization.

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