ARCHBALD - U.S. Sen. Bob Casey has enlisted in the fight to continue production of the Army's main battle tank.
Mr. Casey, a Scranton Democrat, toured the General Dynamics Land Systems plant Tuesday and voiced support for a proposal to retool 70 M1A2 Abrams tanks annually.
The Pentagon has called for a three-year suspension of work on the tank starting in 2013 because it has enough renovated units and estimates the production halt would save $800 million.
General Dynamics employs about 250 people in Eynon, where it manufactures parts for tank turrets and suspensions.
"It's about jobs, of course, and our industrial base, but it's also about national security," Mr. Casey said before touring the plant. "It's a highly skilled workforce that you can't treat like an on-off switch."
General Dynamics officials are trying to convince Congress to commit to overhauling 70 Abrams tanks yearly at a cost of $1.3 billion. The company said it would cost taxpayers $1.6 billion to restart production after a three-year interruption.
The Senate and the House are expected soon to address appropriations measures that will determine whether the Pentagon's proposal to interrupt production survives.
Mr. Casey released a letter he sent to U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, calling for approval of the 70-tank proposal.
"I recognize the need to reduce federal spending and strongly support efforts to rein in our national debt," the letter states. "However, continued production of the Abrams tank is necessary to maintain ground superiority in our military engagements and ensure that our industrial base is able to meet our national security needs."
An interruption in production would result in $3.4 billion in lost income, Mr. Casey's letter states, and more than 560 subcontractors who work on the tank employ 18,000 people. General Dynamics paid 41 Pennsylvania companies more than $28 million in 2010 for Abrams-related supplies, according to the company.
Peter Keating, a spokesman for General Dynamics, said the company sees momentum building in Congress for its proposal.
"The Pennsylvania delegation has come on strong and that's very helpful," he said.
U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-10, Lycoming Twp., toured the Eynon plant last month and said he supports continued work on the tank.
Plant manager Frank Fata said the proposal to continue production seems to be gaining momentum because of the potentially negative effects.
"It's still a work in progress, but we feel better about it," Mr. Fata said. "To shut it down now wouldn't make any sense."
A shutdown would disperse a highly specialized workforce, Mr. Casey said, which could be difficult to reassemble and retrain.
"You can't replace in months or years the skill level that we have here," he said. "We need these jobs more than ever."