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FEATURE ARTICLE  

 Roadside Bombs Spur Cry For Armored Civilian Vehicles  

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 By Harold Kennedy

 

Tokyo-The recent bilateral agreement to realign U.S. forces in Japan has commanded considerable attention, especially the decision to station for the first time a nuclear carrier at a base near Tokyo.

The emergence of roadside bombs as a terrorist weapon of choice has caused a worldwide explosion in demand for up-armored civilian vehicles, says Gary Allen, president of Centigon, a recently created subsidiary of Armor Holdings Inc.

Based in Jacksonville, Fla., Armor Holdings manufactures vehicle armor systems for military services, law-enforcement and homeland-security agencies. In September 2005, it established Centigon by combining the civilian vehicle-armoring operations of its Mobile Security Division, including AMS-France, AMS-Germany and O'Gara & Eisenhardt.

Centigon, headquartered in Fairfield, Ohio, has eight manufacturing plants and 1,500 employees in seven countries in North America, Europe and Latin America.

The armor industry currently is evolving as to counter a growing threat to civilian vehicles, Allen said. Before the September 2001 terrorist attacks, he said, threats against civilian vehicles came primarily from handguns wielded by drug traffickers and gangs. After 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, the threat focus shifted to assault rifles. Currently, in Iraq, the emphasis is on improvised explosive devices. "Now it's not only a ballistic threat-it's a blast threat," Allen said.

In May 2005, insurgents used IEDs about 700 times to attack U.S. forces in Iraq-the highest number since the 2003 invasion-Allen said. About 30 IED attacks now occur each day in Iraq, accounting for as many as 70 percent of all U.S. deaths, he added.

"I can tell you, based on my experience, I have never seen the kind of growth of the threat that we've seen in the past year," said Tony Russell, Armor's chief technology officer.

One result has been "explosive growth" in demand for armor protection for civilian cars, trucks and vans in the Middle East and particularly in Iraq, Allen said.

Centigon is marketing a package called the IE-Defense System. It can be applied to the Toyota Land Cruiser, Chevrolet Suburban and Silverado, Ford Excursion and F-Series, commercial truck cabs and any other vehicles with a one-ton capacity or greater.

The most requested conversions are for the Land Cruiser, Suburban and Excursion, Russell said. Primary customers are governments, private contractors and non-governmental organizations. The package includes:

Installing the system in a typical sports utility vehicle takes up to 1,200 man-hours and costs approximately $200,000, Russell said.

"Generally speaking, the IE-Defense System protects against a combination of high explosives-blast and fragmentation-followed by assault-rifle armor-piercing bullets," he explained. The system uses a new form of steel known as ultra high hard that is 30 percent lighter than standard ballistic metals, plus advanced lightweight composite materials.

The system's core technology is based upon the results of a program of research and testing that Armor Holdings conducted in the early 1990s with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Meanwhile, demand remains high for armored military vehicles especially for U.S. forces in Iraq. Armor Holdings in October received a $110 million order from the Oshkosh Truck Corporation to provide armor kits for the U.S. Marine Corps medium tactical vehicle replacement program. That same month, it also got a $110 million award from AM General to supply kits for the Army's M1151 and M1152 Humvees.

The Army in mid-2005 delivered 824 up-armored Humvees to the 4th Infantry Division, which at the time was at Fort hood, Texas, preparing to return to Iraq in early 2006. Rep. Duncan Hunter, (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, questioned this action. In October, he convened a hearing to ask:

"Why is a division that is still based here in the United States and not scheduled to complete deployment until the first of next calendar year, receiving 824 new-production up-armor Humvees while there remains an immediate need in-theater for these vehicles for both the Army and the Marine Corps?"

Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey responded that installing the equipment at Fort Hood was deemed "much more efficient and effective" than doing it overseas. "Doing this upgrade at home station takes about 14 days versus an estimated 60 days it would take to do the work in Kuwait," he told the committee

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