Carl Levin: Link between Michigan industry, nation’s security is strong

Published 5:35 pm Friday, August 21, 2009

The link between America’s manufacturing might and its national security is as old as our nation. From Washington’s troops in the War of Independence to the bomber crews of World War II to our brave men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan, our ability to produce more, newer, better equipment has kept our fighting troops safer and helped make them more effective. And at the center of America’s industrial heartland, Michigan’s crucial role in preserving that advantage is decades-old.

Two recent events will further deepen this connection between Michigan’s industrial strength and the nation’s defense. In mid-August, I was honored to help celebrate the groundbreaking for a new facility in Warren that will put our military on a path to a more secure energy future. And in July, the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2010, a bill that includes more than $400 million for Army research on new combat vehicles and automotive technologies. That research and dozens of other projects contained in the bill, which is expected to clear Congress and go to the president later this year, will continue Michigan’s proud heritage of contributing to our defense.

The groundbreaking ceremony at the Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center was a significant moment for our military and for Michigan. When completed, TARDEC’s Ground Systems Power and Energy Laboratory will be a state-of-the-art facility. It will house experts working in eight world-class labs, developing and testing new battery technologies, electricity distribution systems, hybrid-electric powertrains, advanced fuel cells and more. Congress approved the $18.5 million in funding for the facility in 2007.

The facility represents a major, coordinated thrust by the Defense Department to develop alternative energy technologies to make military vehicles safer, more efficient and less dependent on fossil fuels. And it demonstrates what military officials already have told us: that Michigan, the center of our domestic auto industry, will continue to provide the important connection between automotive technologies and defense.

The second strong sign is the Senate’s version of the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes several more TARDEC projects, including $20 million for alternative energy research, another $20 million for advanced battery development and $12 million for unmanned ground vehicle research.

Michigan companies are likely to benefit from other projects included in the bill, including research and development of engines for unmanned ground vehicles, materials for semiconductors in hybrid-electric vehicles, and heat-management products for Army vehicles.

Beyond research and development, Michigan manufacturers will make major contributions to ongoing missions. The bill authorizes more than $3 billion to buy new medium and light tactical vehicles; $1.5 billion for new humvees; $6.7 billion for more Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, or MRAPs, which protect our troops from roadside bombs; and more than $1 billion for the Abrams Main Battle Tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle programs. Contractors across the state play major roles in these programs.

And the state’s defense work isn’t limited to vehicle technology. Michigan companies will be involved in an extensive array of projects for the military, such as cruise missile engines, lasers to help aircraft evade missiles, systems to test battlefield water supplies, and cold weather gear for the Marines.

That Michigan companies can play such varied roles in our nation’s defense is powerful testament to the quality of our state’s workers and the vibrancy of our businesses. Our troops are safer and our nation is stronger because of their work.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.