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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.

"Automakers' survival a matter of U.S. security: Clark". Reuters. 16 Nov. 2008 - NEW YORK (Reuters) - A rescue of U.S. automakers is important both economically and for national security, retired Gen. Wesley Clark wrote in an opinion piece in Sunday's New York Times.

The U.S. auto industry has played an important role in successive military campaigns, from World War II to today, and its ability to continue to develop new technologies is

imperative for national security, said Clark.

U.S. auto makers say federal aid is vital to their survival, and there could be devastating ramifications for the broader economy if the sector is not stabilized.

But a government bailout has hit stiff opposition from some, who question whether the automakers will be viable even with support.

"To be sure, the public should demand transformation, and new standards in the auto industry before paying to keep it alive," said Clark, who is also a former NATO supreme allied commander.

"But Americans must bear in mind that any federal assistance plan would not just be an economic measure. This is, fundamentally, about national security," Clark added.

Companies such as General Motors Corp and Ford Motor Co played an important role in producing tanks and trucks, and lending technology to aircraft and shipping manufacture during World War II, said Clark.

Their participation in today's military campaign in Iraq has been equally important, including the development of armor-protected vehicles, something that could not have been accomplished quickly without the efforts of the American automotive industry, he added.

"More challenges lie ahead for our military, and to meet them we need a strong industrial base," said Clark, adding that among the needs are better sources of electric power in vehicles -- something troops need to monitor their radios while diesel engines are switched off, for example.

"This greater use of electricity will increase combat power while reducing our footprint," said Clark.

"Automakers are developing innovative electric motors, many with permanent magnet technology, that will have immediate military use," he added.

Other areas where the military needs to harness the auto industry's expertise include developing an advanced battery industry in the United States, and domestic fuel cell production, which is expected to have critical military applications, said Clark.

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