Army officials are mulling over options to develop and deploy armor kits that
would protect truck crews in combat.
"Our truck fleets are the most vulnerable pieces of our logistics system,"
said Brig. Gen. William E. Mortensen, commander of the Army Transportation Center,
Ft. Eustis, Va. "We need R&D [research and development] efforts"
to bolster ballistic protection for wheeled vehicle crews, he told a conference
on tactical wheeled vehicles in Monterey, Calif.
Because the Army has dozens of truck models comprising a fleet of about 220,000
vehicles, armor packages should be "scalable," said Mortenson. That
means armor plates could be put on and taken off as needed and should be adaptable
to various truck sizes and configurations.
In the mid-1990s, the Army began purchasing armor plates for its light trucks,
notably the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, known as the Humvee.
This was necessary, officials said, because these vehicles were being driven
in landmine-ridden countries such as Bosnia and Kosovo. The addition of armor
protection to the Humvees meant lives would be saved if a truck hit a landmine.
Now, the Army is considering whether it should extend the same protection to
a portion of its medium-size fleet of 2.5-ton and 5-ton trucks. Under the Cold
War view of the world, those trucks were intended to remain in the rear of the
battlefield and, therefore, were not expected to be fired on. The sort of military
contingencies that the Army has been involved in recent years, however, make
it more difficult to separate the front lines from the logistics support units.
Recent deployments in the Balkans are a case in point.
"The Cold War mentality was to have trucks behind the front line. So nobody
wanted to spend the dollars on protection," said John D. Weaver, a consultant
for the Army's Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM), in Warren, Mich.,
and a former program manager for light tactical vehicles.
For medium vehicles, the "survivability requirement is more complex if
the vehicle is not originally designed to put armor on it," said Weaver
in an interview. "After it's been designed, it costs more" to add
Today's combat environment, he noted, exposes soldiers to the so-called asymmetric
threats, such as anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines, so "there is
a need for protection."
The Army's medium vehicles, particularly, are difficult to protect because,
for the most part, they feature a "cab-over" design, where the driver
sits above the axle, said Weaver. "That is the toughest position to defend
against landmines, because the blast comes straight up."
He believes the Army would need to invest up to several million dollars to
"come up with a decent strap-on package" for medium trucks. Currently,
the Army's newest medium trucks are the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV),
built by prime contractor Stewart & Stevenson, in Sealy, Texas. There are
approximately 1,400 FMTV variants.
Equipping FMTV trucks with armor could be done "relatively easily,"
depending on the degree of protection desired, said Paul Justice, spokesman
for Stewart & Stevenson. "It would require a study" to determine
the best way to do it and how it would affect the truck's weight limits, Justice
The Army currently is working on a project to reinforce the cab for the HIMARS,
or high-mobility artillery system, which is housed on a 5-ton FMTV chassis.
The HIMARS armor protection, however, is not aimed at landmine threats, but
was designed to safeguard the crew from shrapnel.
The armor work is being done by O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt Armoring Company,
Fairfield, Ohio. The firm became the Army's supplier of up-armored Humvees in
Currently, O'Gara is producing between 30 to 45 up-armored Humvees per month
and will continue to do so for several years, said Robert E. Morris, the company's
vice president for military products. So far, he said in an interview, O'Gara
has built about 2,000 of the up-armored vehicles for the Army and the Air Force.
Weaver, who was responsible for the up-armored Humvee effort in the mid-1990s,
said "it was a good job but certainly wasn't optimized, because we had
to work around the basic design of the Humvee ... We were able to do it with
the Humvee because its front wheels offered some reasonable angles to vent the
blast. But it is not the way we would have done it, if it had been a major consideration
in the early stages of design."
Last summer, O'Gara was hired by TACOM to conduct a study on the potential
cost and feasibility of building armor crew protection kits for the older fleet
of medium trucks, the M915s. Morris said the study was completed but could not
provide further details.
A TACOM spokeswoman said the study asked for data on weight, cost and protection
for the M915 truck. "It's regarded more as a feasibility analysis than
a crew protection study," she said.
One alternative offered was to reinforce every M915 at the door frame, roof,
and walls, for the addition of an armor kit. Another option was to build an
Either option, said the spokeswoman, "would be very heavy and expensive
... Moreover, the weight problem also affects operational readiness."
After O'Gara officials briefed TACOM representatives on the study, the decision
was made to "do more research to see what kind of crew protection kit would
be best for non-combat vehicles," she added. "The bottom line is that
the program office is awaiting funding-there is a $1 million unfunded requirement."
The up-armored Humvee made headlines three years ago, when a truck driving through
Bosnia hit a 14-pound landmine and all three crew members emerged virtually
Morris cautioned that adding ballistic protection to vehicles is "not
a matter of hanging steel from the side of a truck." The vehicle and the
armor kits have to be "treated as a total system," he said. Three
ingredients must be balanced to achieve a system that works and is not outrageously
expensive, he added. They are: ballistic or blast threat, the performance desired
for the vehicle and the cost.
The medium trucks could be made more survivable, but the armor would add too
much weight, Army officials noted. The FMTV office currently is conducting a
"low-level investigation" on the possibility of developing armor kits
for the trucks, said Col. Robert B. Lees Jr., project manager for medium tactical
vehicles. "We received inquiries from the field concerning survivability
kits," he said in an interview. A market study is under way to evaluate
options for developing protective armor against small arms fire and landmines,
"Trucks by nature are not very survivable," he said. But not all
trucks need as much protection. "There are different needs for different
trucks." The 5-ton line-haul vehicles, for example, don't go to the forward
In the FMTV program, armor protection was not a requirement, said Dennis E.
Mazurek, TACOM's deputy project manager for medium tactical vehicles. The program's
operational requirement document, or ORD, said ballistic protection was "desired"
but not required. "That means you don't get the dollars," said Mazurek.
The Army plans to begin a new FMTV production lot for 10,000 trucks in 2002.
Those vehicles also will not have armor as a system requirement. "We are
not at that point," Mazurek noted. TACOM plans to issue an RFP (request
for proposals) for the next phase of FMTV this summer.
Weaver, a former program manager, understands the dilemmas associated with
keeping projects on budget while meeting all desired specifications. "Armor
is expensive," he said. "It leads to the discussion of how much is
a life worth." When the up-armored Humvee was introduced, the armor doubled
the cost of the vehicle, he said. "But there were G.Is who were able to
walk away from a mine blast who would otherwise have been severely injured or
According to Lees, the armor kits for the FMTV trucks will not double the cost
of the truck, estimated at $150,000 per unit.
"In defense of the PMs (program managers) ... the PM can only put in the
system specifications requirements as generated by the user in the ORD ... Everything
starts with the ORD," said Weaver.
For the Army, ORDs originate at the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).
Col. Tom Feick, a requirements official at TRADOC, said there is a separate
ORD for "crew protection kits" that require newer vehicles to be equipped
to receive modular armor packages.
Designing armor appliqué kits for medium-duty trucks involves a number
of considerations. Weaver explained:
"One way to protect people is not to try to block the blast but to deflect
the blast, vent it away from the vehicle. The angles of the wheel well area
and of the floor of the vehicle are key to that aspect.
"If the design takes into account if the wheel hits a landmine, you want
to vent the blast away from the vehicle. It's clearly easier to do that when
you are designing the vehicle than afterwards," he said. The weight and
space can be significant drawbacks. "If you want to add an after-market
armor package to install only in an area of threat, it makes a lot of sense
to design into the vehicle the mounting points: the bolt holds, the studs, things
like that," Weaver said, "so that when you get the kit, you have the
mounting points to mount it to the vehicle."
When the driver sits above the axle, "it's not impossible to protect the
driver, but it's more difficult," he said. "In the cab-over design,
such as the FMTV and most of the European trucks, you don't have the angles
to deflect the blast as readily. You are going to put more force into the driver
and passenger because they are sitting right over the mine, and there is going
to be more of the blast going into the structure of the vehicle."
With the Humvee, said Weaver, "we had to go and design shock attenuating
mounts for the seats, which would collapse to absorb the upward blast from the
landmine. When you have the cab-over design, that becomes a much more critical
aspect of design because you are going to be absorbing more of the blast into
the vehicle. Therefore, there is greater potential of injuring or killing the
driver and passenger."