At a Steam-Age Arsenal, U.S. Army Forges Cannons for a Digital Era, War in Ukraine

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On a military base more than two centuries old, the Army is hammering out its cannon of the future.

The Watervliet Arsenal opened during the War of 1812 and one building dates to 1828. Yet inside an aging production hall, new digital machine tools that resemble science-fiction space pods are churning out components for Abrams tanks, a weapon pledged for fighting in Ukraine. In another hall, an automated forge pounds red-hot metal cylinders into 20-foot gun barrels for America’s next howitzers, which will lob shells more than 40 miles.

Fighting in Ukraine has renewed attention to land systems that Watervliet helps produce and repair, which until recently were dismissed by some military strategists as relics because they are used by traditional infantry.

“The Army and land combat systems are what hold ground,” said Maj. Gen. Darren Werner, commander of Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, or Tacom, of which Watervliet is a part.

Tacom, the Army’s in-house production, maintenance and logistics operation for ground equipment like artillery, is unusual because it carries out manufacturing. The Pentagon and Congress decided decades ago that to ensure supplies of essential materiel like big guns and their ammunition, some production and upkeep will remain in public hands.