World Tribune.com

U.S. Central Command has added armor to 22,000 of its 30,000 fleet

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Friday, December 10, 2004

The United States has satisfied about 70 percent of the military's combat armored vehicle requirements in the Middle East and surrounding regions.

Officials said that over the last year the U.S. Army has vastly increased the number of combat and support military vehicles that received armor. They said the aim was to armor every vehicle deployed by the U.S. military in the Middle East, Persian Gulf, South Asia and Central Asia regions.

Officials and soldiers said the accelerated rate of production has been insufficient to achieve the army's goal to armor its entire vehicle fleet in Iraq. They said the result has been a significant shortage of armored vehicles particularly among transport and support units, which has affected supplies to U.S. troops in Iraq.

At the same time, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld echoed the Pentagon assessment that armored vehicles don't guarantee troop safety. He cited the destruction of U.S. main battle tanks from mines, and other officials said 120 up-armored Humvees were destroyed by insurgency attacks in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.

"You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up," Rumsfeld said.



Defense Department officials said U.S. contractors were cranking out hundreds of armored Humvees per month for the army. They said that only 15 months ago production of armored Humvees was about 30 per month.

On Dec. 8, Rumsfeld, meeting U.S. forces in Kuwait, was told that army units were digging through local landfills for "pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles."

Rumsfeld responded that production capability marked a key element in the acquisition of up-armored kits for military vehicles deployed in Iraq.

"The army has been pressing ahead to produce the armor necessary at a rate that they believe," Rumsfeld said. "It's a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously but, at a rate that they believe is the rate that is all that can be accomplished at this moment."

The U.S. military set a requirement of 8,100 up-armored Humvees, of which about 6,000 were being produced, officials said. They said that about 22,000 of Central Command's fleet of 30,000 vehicles have received some form of armor.

Over the last few months, the army has expanded the up-armor effort to include non-combat vehicles in Iraq, officials said. They said the army has added armor to 507 heavy tactical trucks, 492 medium tactical vehicles, two heavy equipment trailers, eight M-915 trucks and 187 palletized load system vehicles that serve in Iraq. The army has operated four depots, two arsenals and one ammunition plant for the production of the armor kits.

Lt. Gen. Steve Whitcomb, commander of the U.S. Third Army, outlined three levels of up-armoring. In a briefing on Thursday, Whitecomb said Level One, manufactured in the United States, provides glass and other armament on the side, front, rear, top and bottom of the vehicle. He said slightly under 6,000 vehicles have received such protection.

Another 10,000 vehicles have received Level 2 protection, or the installation of add-on armor on existing vehicles. Whitcomb said such work has taken place in Iraq and Kuwait. Whitcomb said Level 2 does not provide protection at the top or bottom of the vehicle.

The lowest level, regarded as an interim measure, was termed Level 3, or hardening. This involved the welding of steel plates on military vehicles.

"Our real focus for the Level 3 armor is not the Humvees," Whitcomb said. "It's really the series of trucks that the army uses in combat operations. We're not doing it in large numbers yet. We're doing it where we can. We're building a capacity to be able to do that more frequently, to refurbish the fleet. But that is an issue."

Officials said the army has decided to produce armor add-on kits for all wheeled vehicles deployed to Iraq and the rest of the area under U.S. Central Command. The command is responsible for most of the Middle East, Persian Gulf, Central Asia and South Asia.

Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said the decision to launch add-on armor production took place around August 2003 amid in an increase in insurgency bombing attacks on U.S. combat vehicles and covoys in Iraq. Di Rita said army commanders determined that combat troops and support units were not sufficiently protected from rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and roadside bombs, known in the military as improvised explosive devices.

In Iraq, Di Rita, said, commanders no longer permit unarmored vehicles to drive alone. Instead, they have been placed in convoys with combat armored vehicles.

"Commanders there at that point started to face this growing improvised explosive device challenge and said that they would like to have higher numbers of armored Humvees than they had originally projected," Di Rita said.

In December, the Pentagon awarded a $6.6 million contract to O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt Armoring Armoring for support of up-armored Humvees for the army. The Fairfield, Ohio-based company was contracted to complete the project by December 2007.

Officials said that in 2004, the army has been producing about 450 armored Humvees per month. They said the armor add-on kits were being fitted on to the 19,000 Humvees in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.

So far, 15,000 Humvees have been fitted with armor. The command has a total of 30,000 vehicles and officials said about 8,000 of them have no form of armor protection.

"While armor provides protection, it is not the be-all and end-all for security," Pentagon spokesman Maj. Paul Swiergosz said. "The army's IED Task Force and the Center for Army Lessons Learned have provided as much, if not more, protection for our forces by sharing tactics, techniques and procedures to help counter IED attacks."


Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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