Nearly a mile above sea level in an isolated corner of Northern California, more than 26,000 armored vehicles stand ready. They form the most noticeable part of the Sierra Army Depot, a 36,000-acre repository for the U.S. Army’s tanks, trucks, and armored personal carriers.
The Army set up shop at Sierra during World War II and used the base to store vast quantities of bombs and ammunition in hundreds of armored “igloos.” The site made a lot of sense for this type of work. As the Army later recounted in BRAC testimony, the spot was “near enough to Pacific ports, but far enough from the coast to be sheltered from possible attack.” It also had its own rail spur and boasted of a low rainfall climate that minimized the threat of rusting.
Over the decades, the stockpile of weaponry at the Sierra Depot grew as the Army started using the arid base to store an expanding fleet of surplus vehicles. Today that includes some 2,000 M1 Abrams main battle tanks that are parked in neat rows, along with vast lots of armored personnel carriers, trailers, trucks, and other miscellanea.
The massive armor build up at Sierra Army Depot isn’t really the result of military necessity, it’s actually something of a Congressional boondoggle. Army leadership has been calling for a suspension of Abrams tank production for years. But alas, military spending is the domain of the Congressional Appropriations Committees, and when it comes to the Abrams, Congress says “More Tanks!” Pending an anachronistic World War II-style armor clash on the European plains, the vehicles will continue to accumulate out at the Sierra Army Depot for the foreseeable future.