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Argument: Auto companies are key to US military during war

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Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., also warned about threats to the U.S. from a collapse by automakers: "Our national security could be at risk in some way or another because of the parts suppliers that supply both automobiles and weapons in defense material."[1]

Richard Lardner. "Automakers: Rescue a matter of U.S. security". Associated Press. 19 Nov. 2008 - On Sunday, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark pointed to the rapid production of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles as evidence of what a healthy domestic automotive sector can do on short notice. Thousands of the so-called "MRAPs" that protect U.S. troops from roadside bombs have been built in the last few years and sent to Iraq, Clark wrote in The New York Times.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the defense market alone isn't large enough to sustain most auto-parts suppliers, making a strong commercial industry key to their survival.

TRW Automotive Holdings Corp., which also supplies parts for heavy-duty trucks used by the U.S. military, warned investors Oct. 30 in U.S. securities filings that the economic meltdown could further damage the auto industry, which could hurt its own sales or profit margins. Cummins Engine, which makes diesel engines for the military, said it sells roughly 8 percent of its engines to Chrysler for use in Dodge Ram trucks. Cummins told investors in February that a decline in Chrysler truck production could hurt its sales.

And Detroit's research and development of batteries, alternative-energy vehicles and lightweight materials all hold promise for the military. "These technologies are being developed primarily for the commercial industry but can also help our troops in battle," Levin said Tuesday.

[...]the Big Three automakers had no role in making the hulking MRAPs, and the most innovative automotive technologies are coming from Toyota and Honda, not Detroit, said Dakota Wood, a retired Marine Corps officer and a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. "Is it in our best interest to have a robust commercial automotive industry? Absolutely," Wood said. "Would we prefer to have domestic innovation and production advantages? Of course. But I think the argument of propping up the Big Three as a national security imperative is marginal at best."

When the Pentagon needed MRAPs in a hurry, it turned to traditional defense companies like Force Protection in South Carolina, BAE Systems of Sealy, Texas, and General Dynamics Land Systems in Canada. Similarly, the Army and the Marine Corps are buying a vehicle to replace the venerable Humvee and awarded contracts to manufacturers with heavy experience building military trucks. "The defense sector has become so specialized that much of it is completely separate from the commercial sector," Wood said.

Big Three weren't interested Detroit's Big Three were uninterested in a partnership to build the mine-resistant vehicles, which can weigh 20 tons or more and have a unique V-shaped hull to deflect blasts, said Damon Walsh, Force Protection's executive vice president. "It just wasn't sufficient volume for them," Walsh said.

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