In fits and starts, the Army so far has outfitted more than 22,000
trucks with protective armor for troops in Iraq. While Army officials
cite this accomplishment as proof that depots and suppliers can
be mobilized rapidly it times of need, they also view it as a cautionary
tale of poor planning.
Stung by the experience, senior Army leaders have set up a special
panel to lay down guidelines for future truck procurements, shape
buying decisions for vehicle upgrades and improve training and logistics
support for vehicle operators and maintainers. Most importantly,
officials said, the panel, known as the “tactical wheeled
vehicles board of directors,” must ensure that trucks sent
to the front lines offer adequate protection for soldiers.
“We need a more systematic, methodical approach to requirements,”
said Brig. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, Army program executive for
combat support vehicles, and a member of the panel.
The process of setting requirements for truck armor has been erratic
at best, critics charge. The Army will receive $41 billion in emergency
spending in coming months—$3.2 billion of which will pay for
trucks and combat vehicles—and lawmakers would like to see
a clear procurement strategy, noted Lt. Gen. David F. Melcher, Army
deputy chief of staff for operations and programs. He acknowledged
there is “frustration in Congress about requirements,”
but he did not see how the Army could have predicted that insurgents
in Iraq would target U.S. truck convoys so aggressively. “I
don’t think any of us had a perfectly clear crystal ball about
what the future was going to look like,” Melcher said.
His predecessor, Gen. Benjamin Griffin, conceded that the Army
planned poorly. “One area I did not do very well was in the
tactical wheeled vehicles strategy,” said Griffin, who is
now head of the Army Materiel Command.
In the future, he said, the plan is not to “armor everything,”
but to have protective gear available when it’s needed.
Armor kits in use today were designed as an after-market product,
and can be cumbersome to work with, officials stressed. Many of
the kits now being shipped to Iraq require more than 120 hours of
labor to install. The additional thousands of pounds of extra weight
also increase the maintenance workload and require more frequent
engine replacements and suspension repairs. Each truck that gets
armored plating also receives an air-conditioning unit, which adds
to the workload.
Of the 22,500 armored trucks in Iraq, 26 percent have so-called
level-1 armor kits, which means the vehicles were built with armor
in the factory. An example of that is the up-armored Humvee. About
half the trucks have level-2 armor, which are not factory-quality,
but are Army-approved and come with ballistic glass and air-conditioning
units. The rest of the trucks have level-3 armor, which is made
with locally fabricated steel plates and offers significantly inferior
protection compared to levels 2 and 1 armor, experts noted.
To help improve the quality of level-3 armor, Melcher said, the
Army requested a waiver from Congress to purchase foreign steel,
and has enlisted Navy and Air Force welders to assist in cutting
doors and panels.
During a recent tour of truck-armoring shops at military bases
in Iraq, O’Reilly said, he got the message loud and clear.
“When you give them armor kits that take 120-130 hours to
put on, you are creating a significant burden for someone who’s
already stressed from the war.”
To minimize the installation and maintenance hassles, O’Reilly
said, the Army should consider building appliqué armor that
does not require heavy tools. To install one of the earlier Humvee
kits, for example, engineers had to bore holes, reinforce pillars,
create new hinges and provide a new windshield.
“That can’t be done by soldiers. It requires depot
engineers or contractors,” explained Richard McClelland, director
of the Army’s Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering
The Army also should demand that truck manufacturers design armor
kits for each vehicle model, and ensure that the truck has all the
necessary “hooks” for the armor, McClelland said.
Army researchers, meanwhile, are experimenting with an array of
lightweight protective materials that potentially could replace
steel armor. They also are working on “active” protection
systems, which shoot munitions to defeat incoming rockets. Only
“passive” defenses, such as armor, however, protect
from roadside bombs.
“Lots of things look promising in the lab,” said Brig.
Gen. Roger Nadeau, head of the Army Research, Development and Engineering
Command. The Army still is several years away from a major breakthrough,
he said. “There is no one known technology leap right now
that is going to make life better on the battlefield in three months.”
One example of a promising technology is a new “hybrid”
Humvee door that is part-steel and part-composite materials. That
door is 30 percent lighter than the current armor door used on the
Humvee, said Maj. Dan Rusin, an armor expert at the Army Research
Several materials are being evaluated in this project, he told
National Defense, including ceramics and metal-composite laminates.
“In this war, we jumped with both feet to metal solutions,”
he said. But, during the next three to five years, other alternatives
will emerge, such as active-protection systems and possibly protective
air bags that would be mounted on light-truck doors.
Commanders in Iraq increasingly are resorting to other techniques
for surviving explosions. Among the most effective is the use of
electronic devices that can jam the signals from the detonators
used by insurgents, such as cellular phones or garage openers.
Jammers are deployed on airplanes or ground vehicles. Most recently,
the Marine Corps introduced a piece of software called the “convoy
planning tool,” which allows convoy commanders to plot the
location of jammers on trucks, based on intelligence on the threats
they might face along a particular route.
Although these methods are not foolproof, neither is armor, noted
Gen. Michael Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps. He recalled
one instance when an up-armored Humvee literally was “ripped
apart” by an explosion, even though this vehicle is reported
to have an impressive track record against roadside bombs. “If
you put enough explosives, you are going to take the vehicle apart,”
Hagee told reporters.