Despite efforts to accelerate production of armor plates and up-armored Humvees,
the Army cannot supply enough protective kits to equip every one of its nearly
50,000 trucks now operating throughout Iraq. To make up for the shortage of
armor, the Army intends to protect truck convoys from roadside bombs, mines
and small-arms attacks by deploying more firepower aboard vehicles, along with
other defensive techniques.
As thousands of troops rotate in and out of Iraq, convoys of Humvees, wreckers,
2 1/2-ton and 5-ton trucks—moving people and equipment—will continue
to be targeted. The Army has put in place a package of security measures designed
to protect vehicles, even if they don’t have armor. On an average day,
at least 2,000 trucks traverse the 900-mile stretch between U.S. bases in Kuwait
and Balad, Iraq.
“Clearly, we won’t be able to put armor in every truck,”
said Lt. Gen. Claude V. Christianson, Army deputy chief of staff for logistics.
But, he cautioned, “force protection is more than just armor on the vehicle.”
Other defensive techniques are based on maneuvers and the deployment of weapons
aboard trucks, such as machine guns and grenade launchers. The specific “offensive”
measures are classified, Christianson told National Defense. “Control
of movements, maneuver and the ability to fight from your truck” are key
pieces of the strategy. “All that, together with the armor kits, provides
the total force protection package.”
In recent months, the Army has been withdrawing tanks and Bradley tracked vehicles
from Iraq, and replacing them with trucks, which are better suited for patrolling
and transporting supplies.
“The situation in Iraq requires maneuverability that you can’t
get from the heavy vehicles,” said Christianson. “You have to go
down narrow streets and move down very quickly.”
Tanks and Bradleys are not only cumbersome to get around the cities, but they
also are viewed as too threatening for routine patrols. “Once you are
inside and closed up, you can’t see very much. The patrols are more than
just driving up and down.” Soldiers have to be able to easily get out
of their vehicles and talking to people. “A closed-up tank is intimidating,”
he said. “The current requirement only can be met with lighter vehicles.”
The vulnerability of truck convoys and the inadequacies of the Army supply
system are among the painful lessons the Army learned in this war. As is the
case in every war, soldiers learn to adjust and make up for the deficiencies
of the system. “Soldiers are pretty good at covering our sins,”
said Gen. Paul Kern, head of the Army Materiel Command.
Self-preservation has been the name of the game in Iraq, noted Maj. Robert
A. Bean, a logistics officer who recently returned from a tour in Iraq. The
Army’s truck fleet was designed for the Cold War, with the assumption
that logistics vehicles operate safely in the rear of the battlefield. Under
constant fire, soldiers in Iraq have resorted to all kinds of improvised “after-market”
vehicle modifications, such as bolting on steel plates and turret machine guns
on trucks that were never built to carry that much extra weight.
In a presentation at the 2004 NDIA Tactical Wheeled Vehicles Conference, Bean
lamented the fact the Army’s procurement systems is unable to meet soldiers’
needs. When soldiers modify the equipment, they are motivated by survival instincts,
but they also risk creating new dangers. Overloading a Humvee, for instance,
is a safety hazard.
Examples of makeshift truck customization abound. Army depot workers stationed
in Kuwait built a “Mad-Max” type engine—combining the chassis
of an M113 armored personnel carrier that had been hit by a rocket and an 800-series
pickup truck. Such improvisation speaks volumes about the troops’ resourcefulness
and grit, but it raises serious questions about the adequacy of the Army’s
fleet to fight in today’s wars.
Ray Bateman, an Army Research Laboratory science advisor, spent six months
in Iraq monitoring the operation of wheeled vehicles. He initially was summoned
to Iraq to figure out if the diesel fuel was causing truck engines to break
During his time there, he discovered that the Army, for all the billions it
spends on science and technology, has a tough time providing basic survival
equipment. “Over there, there is not a lot of a science and technology.
What you see is soldiers who weld steel plates on the side of the truck,”
Bateman told the TWV conference. “We don’t have solutions for the
soldiers. So they improvise.”
Hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency appropriations went to up-armored
Humvees, but “the people who really need them don’t have them,”
said Bateman. There is a scarce supply of these vehicles, and when they arrive
in theater, they are assigned to senior military officials and civilian leaders,
not to the supply convoys that are bearing the brunt of the enemy attacks.
Sometimes, even armored trucks are not desirable, because they keep the occupants
boxed in, not allowing them to stick their weapons out. The ability to show
weapons coming out of a truck is a huge issue in Iraq, where firepower often
equates to credibility.
“Iraqis respect weapons,” said Bateman. “If you come through
in a vehicle all boxed up, with air conditioning, you become more of a target.”
Riding in up-armored Humvees in the Iraqi desert with no refrigeration, meanwhile,
can lead to more inventiveness. “I’ve seen pictures of trucks where
they took the windows and the doors off, because it’s too hot,”
said Randal C. Gaereminck, deputy program executive for Army ground combat systems.
The trucks are taking a beating, not just from logging 5,000 miles a month,
but also from the excess weight, Bateman said. A typical weapons load consists
of a .50 caliber machine gun, an Mk 19 grenade launcher and two M240 machine
guns pointing out the sides (not counting individual weapons). Soldiers also
are loading up to 40 sandbags in one Humvee. Each is 40 pounds. “They
are breaking suspensions and components,” said Bateman.
The truck engine problems that Bateman was asked to investigate turned out
to be the result of poor training, he said.
After analyzing the JP-8 fuel at refineries, wholesale and retail organizations
throughout Iraq, Bateman concluded that soldiers were polluting the fuel unintentionally.
Based on a “mysterious memorandum” from the Army Materiel Command,
soldiers were being told that when they filled up their vehicles, they should
add a quart of automatic transmission fluid or a quart of motor oil. “They
were putting garbage into perfectly good fuel,” said Bateman.
JP-8 is refined kerosene with additives that the military services use in aircraft
and diesel engines. “When you start adding gunk, it affects the engines,”
he noted. “It was a big education process to tell people not to do that.”
The pervasive desert “moon dust” also wreaks havoc on the fuel.
When soldiers open the fuel tank to fill up, the dust gets inside. It gums up
filters, creating sludge in the bottom of the tank, getting into the engine
and leading to engine failures.
The AMC memorandum appears to have been nothing more than an urban legend,
Another Humvee-related concern was the use of unapproved tires.
According to industry sources, soldiers were replacing damaged Humvee tires
with the Super Swamper tire that often is favored by special operations forces.
The Army frowned on that, because many of the older Humvees were not certified
to use Super Swamper, which are heavier than the approved tires and could cause
Notably, the Humvees are not issued with spare tires. When the Army initially
purchased the Humvee, it specified that they would not carry spare tires, because
its tires can run flat, at least for a short distance until they can return
to base to get replaced.
Once again, soldiers in the field had to work around the system to get what
they needed. Units in Iraq and Afghanistan have purchased spare tire carriers
that can be bolted on the vehicle. “A run-flat tire doesn’t make
it all the way when you are running convoys,” said Kern.
The flat tire is another example of the Army failing to provide basic needs,
said Christianson. “We asked for a Humvee with run-flat tires and no spare.
We got that. But that’s not what we need.”
Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Boles, commander of 3rd Corps Support Command, said
soldiers in Iraq have developed their own “skunk works,” to help
solve equipment problems. “They’ll put sheet metal on, put sandbags
in certain places, put additional sheet metal on,” Boles told reporters.
“We have instances where that’s saved lives.”
In recent months, the Army has rushed deliveries of vehicle and body armor
for dismounted troops. A new protective system also was developed for vehicle
operators. The so-called “vehicle body armor support system” straps
into the vehicle seat. It shields truck occupants from a blast underneath or
in front of the vehicle.
“This system is maturing very well and we ought to be able to get it
our very quickly,” said Maj. Gen. John C. Doesburg, head of the Army Research,
Development and Engineering Command.
RDECOM is working on new technologies to protect soft vehicles from RPG attacks.
Among them is an “active” munition that senses an incoming weapon.
The FCLAS (Full Spectrum Active Protection Close in Layered Shield) is now in
development, works in extremely close-in attacks from hand-held heat such as
rocket propelled grenades and small antitank guided missiles. The technology
is promising, but there are safety concerns yet to be addressed, Doesburg said.
The Marine Corps, now back in Iraq, also is securing additional protection
for its Humvees, 5-ton and 7-ton trucks.
Gen. Michael Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, directed that at least
3,000 trucks be hardened with armor plates. Altogether, the Marines are deploying
about 3,600 trucks, he told reporters.
“The Army is leaving behind some up-armored Humvees and armor kits for
the Marines,” Hagee said. “We have learned from them how to do this.”
The up-armored Humvee, however, is not a Marine favorite. It is much too low
to the ground, creating problems getting on and off ships, Hagee said. “We
do not intend to buy any significant numbers.”