UAW chief rips Obama’s tank decision

A prominent union official and surrogate for President Obama slammed the administration's cancellation of a battle tank upgrade Monday, echoing arguments from Mitt Romney about likely job losses in the industrial Midwest.

United Auto Workers (UAW) President Bob King, in an open letter published by the Lima News the day before the election, warned that the White House's cuts to the M-1 Abrams tank program "would result in the loss of thousands of good paying manufacturing jobs across the United States" — particularly in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Closing industrial facilities crucial to the Abrams program "puts at great risk this specialized, highly-skilled, high-wage workforce that makes up the unique armor industrial base," King said in the letter sent to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last month. 

The Romney campaign has hit Obama hard on the Abrams plan, trying to turn the move into a liability in the Rust Belt battleground states that could decide the election. 

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The Republican presidential nominee released a radio ad in October that featured Vice President Biden repeatedly defending the Obama administration's decision to cancel the Abrams upgrade work. Entitled "No Laughing Matter," the ad strung together sound bites of Biden repeating the line "we don't need more M-1 tanks."  

"You know that’s not just an attack against our ability to defend our freedom. It’s also an attack against our jobs and our way of life," the ad said.

Officials with the auto unions have been out in full force for Obama this election year. King was given a speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention to make the case that the American automakers are "roaring again" thanks to the president's bailout of the industry. 

But even as the UAW has helped Obama tout the bailout in Ohio and Michigan, it has kept mostly quiet about the Abrams tank cancellation and is wading into the debate just hours before polls open in the states that will be most affected.

King notes in the letter the possibility for job losses in Ohio, a state that could prove decisive in the presidential election. He said roughly 1,000 UAW members in Ohio would be out of work if the Obama administration moves ahead with its plan for the tank program.

The decision "severely limits the ability of our nation’s manufacturing sector to react to unforeseen military circumstances, undermining our critical ability to provide additional vehicles when the need arises," King wrote.

The $321 million, congressionally backed Abrams upgrade effort would have been included in the Pentagon's annual defense spending bill for fiscal 2013. 

However, Pentagon and White House officials nixed the request in favor of the Army's plan to slim down its arsenal of combat vehicles while the service prepares to shrink its ranks significantly as part of the Pentagon's post-Afghanistan strategy. 

The Abrams tank played a central role in the initial U.S. invasion of Iraq in 1993 during Operation Desert Storm and in 2001 during Operation Enduring Freedom. 

But aside from a short-lived deployment with Marine Corps units in southern Afghanistan, the vehicle has seen little to no action for almost the entirety of the decade-long war in Afghanistan. 

Since entering service in the 1980s, the Abrams tank line has supported more than 800 small to mid-level U.S. defense contracting firms and suppliers. 

— This story was updated at 5:03 p.m.