Still, far fewer tanks are coming out of the Lima plant than in years past. The drop-off has affected companies such as Verhoff Machine and Welding in Continental, Ohio, which makes seats and other parts for the Abrams. Ed Verhoff, the company's president, said his sales have dropped from $20 million to $7 million over the past two years. He's also had to lay off about 25 skilled employees and he expects to be issuing more pink slips in the future.

"When we start to lose this base of people, what are we going to do? Buy our tanks from China?" Verhoff said.

Steven Grundman, a defense expert at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said the difficulty of reviving defense industrial capabilities tends to be overstated.

"From the fairly insular world in which the defense industry operates, these capabilities seem to be unique and in many cases extraordinarily high art," said Grundman, a former deputy undersecretary of defense for industrial affairs and installations during the Clinton administration. "But in the greater scope of the economy, they tend not to be."

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Online:

Abrams tank: http://www.army.mil/factfiles/equipment/tracked/abrams.html

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Follow Richard Lardner on Twitter: https://twitter.com/rplardner

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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