Karl: This is a headline you WON'T see! Why? Because Bush is using Public Relations Technology the right way -- he has discredited Kerry from making this claim, partly because there is a failure, but it started with Clinton's failure, and carried over in a Military that was in the process of change, but the change couldn't be implemented quickly enough -- due to Democratic Congressional influence. Read the preemptive news in the Wall Street Journal, March 19, 2004.
March 19, 2004
Cold-War Thinking Prevented Vital Vehicle From Reaching Iraq
Planning for Big Battles, Army
Snubbed a Humvee Model
Built for Guerrilla Fights
'We Didn't Anticipate' Threat
WASHINGTON -- A decade ago, the Army began producing an armored Humvee capable of providing protection from many roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.
Like most soldiers in Iraq, Capt. Cameron Birge hasn't set foot in one of those vehicles. Instead, he leads convoys through one of the country's most violent regions in a Humvee -- the modern successor to the Jeep -- with a sheet-metal skin that can't even stop bullets from a small-caliber handgun. To shield himself, Capt. Birge removed his Humvee's canvas doors and welded on slabs of scrap metal. He spread Kevlar blankets over the seats and stacked sandbags on the floor.
On the eve of the war in Iraq, just 2% of the Army's world-wide fleet of 110,000 Humvees were armored, and the Army was planning to cut back its purchases. As late as last May, the Army saw little need for the armored Humvee, saying it needed only 235 of them in Iraq. Only in October, with its soldiers under daily attack, did the Army decide it needed 3,100 armored Humvees. Today, the requirement stands at 4,500 and climbing -- a number the Army doesn't expect to hit in Iraq until late this summer or early fall.
The Army's failure to produce more of the vehicles, a hot topic among soldiers in Iraq, is slowly becoming an issue among lawmakers. A look at why the armored-Humvee program has struggled to gain acceptance shows flaws in the Army's vision over the past decade of how future wars would be fought. Even as the armored Humvee proved itself in small conflicts around the globe, the Army failed to buy more because it was focused on preparing for major wars with other large armies -- rather than low-end guerilla conflicts.
Moreover, in pursuit of big technological leaps that fundamentally alter the way wars are fought, the service also has tended to overlook simple, low-cost innovations that often count for much more on the battlefield. "Getting the Army to support the armored Humvee was like pushing a limp rope up a hill," says Jim Mills, a retired colonel who was a senior manager on the program for several years in the late 1990s.
Critics of the armored Humvee had pointed to its limitations: Unlike an Abrams tank, the vehicle can't repel a blast from a rocket-propelled grenade or .50 caliber machine-gun fire. Iraq, however, has shown that even a marginal technological advance can save lives. While the armored Humvee may not deflect a blast from a rocket-propelled grenade or roadside bomb, the solders in the vehicle are far more likely to emerge from the attack with their lives.
Prior to the Iraqi war, senior Army officials, looking to save money in the 2004 budget, drafted a plan that would have cut the number of armored Humvees the service planned to buy by 2,800 vehicles to a total of 1,000.
Now the Army, rushing to fix the imbalance, says it needs 11,000 of the vehicles world-wide. In addition, it is scrambling to produce about 8,400 add-on armor kits that can be bolted to existing Humvees with sheet-metal or fiberglass skin and canvas doors. Those kits, made with extra-strong steel, will replace homemade solutions like Capt. Birge's, which have performed "very poorly," according to Army evaluations.
The service also recently produced the first of six brigades built around a new 19-ton armored Stryker fighting vehicle designed for peacekeeping and guerrilla wars.
Army officials insist that no one could have predicted that the service would have been involved in such a huge peacekeeping effort, which dwarfs previous missions to the Balkans, Haiti and Somalia. Nor could the Army have predicted Iraqi insurgents would use remote-detonated roadside bombs so effectively to kill U.S. soldiers, says Brig. Gen. Jeff Sorenson, a senior Army procurement official. "We didn't anticipate this threat nor were we prepared for it," the general says.
When the Humvee was first developed in the 1980s as an all-purpose transport vehicle, armoring it made little sense. Back then, the Army was preparing to fight the Soviets on a battlefield where heavily armored tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles were out front, providing a line of defense for Humvees and supply trucks in the rear.
In 1992, O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt Armoring Co., a small Fairfield, Ohio, company that made armored cars and wanted to break into the military market, built the first armored Humvee on spec to show the Army what it could do. "We could see how warfare was changing in places like Panama and Colombia," says Robert Mecredy, president of the aerospace and defense division of Armor Holdings Inc., O'Gara-Hess's parent.
A few months later, soldiers cruising the streets of Somalia in a thin-skinned Humvee ran over a land mine. Four Americans died, and the Army issued an urgent call to field 10 of the early armored Humvees. The vehicles were being offloaded in Mogadishu when Army Rangers got into a nightlong firefight that killed 18 Americans -- many of them fighting from thin-skinned Humvees.
Days later the Army withdrew, leaving a small contingent of Marines. When the Army tried to take the armored Humvees back to the U.S., the Marines protested. "I got a frantic call from a captain telling me the Marines weren't going to let the Army take their [armored] Humvees home," recalls retired Lt. Col. J.C. Hudson, who accompanied the armored vehicles to Mogadishu. Col. Hudson says he told the young captain to let the Marines keep the vehicles.
In the wake of the Somalia debacle, Army officials in charge of the Humvee program were eager to find a niche for the armored version, which at $180,000 costs more than twice as much as the regular vehicle. The program's most enthusiastic backers were military police, who specialize in riot control, peacekeeping and stabilizing an area following combat.
But officials involved in the program worried that the Army might not embrace a peacekeeping vehicle. They were also concerned the relatively small military-police force, which boasts no three- or four-star generals, lacked "the horsepower to get the armored Humvee built," says John Weaver, an Army program manager who oversaw the service's Humvee fleet. So Mr. Weaver and his colleagues instead pitched the armored Humvee as a scout vehicle that would venture out in front of the tanks during big battles and beam back information about the enemy.
The armored Humvee proved terrible at that job. Early test vehicles were too heavy, and whenever they ventured off road in soft soil they got stuck in the mud. Senior officers in the Army's armor school, which trains and equips the service's heavy-tank force, wanted to kill the armored-Humvee program entirely.
Other dangerous missions kept the program alive. In 1995, as U.S. troops readied to deploy to Bosnia, senior Pentagon officials, worried about road mines and snipers, once again put out an urgent call for armored Humvees. Starting with the original O'Gara-Hess prototype, Army engineers rushed to develop a hardier version of the vehicle. By 1996, O'Gara-Hess was cranking out 100 of them a month. Because the vehicle was pushed so quickly into production, it had lots of bugs, say Army engineers overseeing the program. Brake spindles fractured, transmissions gave way and serpentine belts broke.
Speaking to a conference of senior Army officers in 1996, Mr. Weaver, a program manager overseeing the Humvee fleet, castigated the service for the way it had handled the armored-Humvee program. "The knee-jerk reactions exhibited in response to Somalia and Bosnia, when all of a sudden someone realized we needed protection, did not result in cost- or operationally effective solutions," he said.
Instead of rushing to add armored Humvees prior to each conflict, Mr. Weaver urged the Army to develop a peacetime plan to buy more of these badly needed vehicles and to add armor to its truck fleet. The Cold War model of warfare, in which the tanks were out front protecting the wheeled vehicles, was no longer relevant, he insisted. In places like Somalia and Bosnia, there were no front lines.
The Army didn't embrace his advice. As the situation in the Balkans began to stabilize, the Army, searching for funds amid the defense cutbacks of the 1990s, once again began to reduce armored-Humvee production. The program suffered another blow in 1999 when the Army decided the armored Humvee wouldn't work as a scout vehicle.
At the time, the Army's top priority was finding money for its Future Combat System, which officials say will replace the 70-ton battle tank and should be able to do everything from high-end combat to peacekeeping. The system, which the Army hopes to field starting around 2010, will depend on unmanned surveillance planes, robotic sensors and human scouts to determine the enemy's whereabouts. Computers linked by wireless modems will then disseminate the data to troops -- who will spread out over the battlefield and attack simultaneously from several directions before the enemy can even get off a shot. Instead of armor, these new units will rely on better intelligence, munitions and speed to survive. The Army plans to spend about $3.2 billion on research and development for that force this year.
In comparison, the armored Humvee seemed like a minor leap forward. And there were other reasons for the Army to think it didn't need more of the vehicles: When President Bush took office, he seemed to be intent on paring back the military's peacekeeping commitments in the Balkans, and keeping U.S. forces out of similar engagements in the future. The President's campaign vision meshed with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's own ideas for the service. Instead of a ponderous force made up of massive 15,000-soldier divisions, Mr. Rumsfeld and his staff envisioned an Army built around small, fast units that would rely on precision air power and speed to defeat enemies swiftly and then return home. The armored Humvee, not designed as a fighting vehicle, didn't seem like a good fit.
Between 2000 and 2003, the Army budgeted enough money to build only about 30 armored Humvees a month, which were fielded to military-police units. "We worked Congress over the last three years to keep the program alive," says Mr. Mecredy, of Armor Holdings Inc., O'Gara-Hess's parent company.
Over the course of those three years, Congress added about $200 million to the Army's budget, which this year is $95 billion, to purchase some 1,100 additional vehicles. Most in the Army expected the service to cut production to about 20 armored Humvees a month in 2004 and 2005 on the way to shutting the line down for good later in the decade.
Then came the war in Iraq. As deaths mounted, soldiers began welding scrap metal to the sides of their thin-skinned vehicles. Back home, National Guard units getting ready to deploy turned to hometown businesses for help. In late December, Virgil Kirkweg, who owns a small welding company in Jefferson City, Mo., got a call from a friend of his in the 428th Transportation Company begging for assistance.
"How can you tell people, 'No, I don't want to do what it takes to save your life'?" says Mr. Kirkweg, who bought about $1,000 of steel and welded it onto the company's Humvees.
In some cases, the homemade armor produced shrapnel fragments when struck, causing injuries. When tested at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, Mr. Kirkweg's homemade plates didn't produce damaging shrapnel, but offered little additional protection to troops, says an Army official.
By contrast, the armored Humvee, which is made from a stronger, specially treated steel, performed very well against most Iraqi threats, say Army officials. To drive that point home, O'Gara-Hess arranged last October to have an armored Humvee that had been blown up by an Afghani roadside bomb shipped to a conference in Orlando, Fla., where it was shown to the Army's senior generals. The company also flew over one of the soldiers who had been riding in the Humvee when it was attacked. None of the soldiers were badly injured.
As the insurgency in Iraq gathered steam this fall, Army officials raced to reassign armored Humvees based as far away as Korea. By January, the service had shipped 1,200 armored Humvees to the country. O'Gara-Hess, meanwhile, has increased production levels to about 220 vehicles a month from 30 a month in April. In 2005 Army plans now call for O'Gara-Hess to build about 2,600 armored Humvees, though the service has secured funding for only 818 so far.
The Army also has put out an open call to industry to develop lightweight armor kits that can be bolted to the frames of existing thin-skinned Humvees. About 80 different firms have sent plates of material, which are tested on a firing range that resembles a cement bowling alley. The kit that has performed best so far was developed by the Army Research Lab, using specially treated high-strength steel similar to that on the armored Humvee.
Army officials say the ranges are now operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "You know guys' lives are on the line in Iraq. When you are in that kind of situation, every hour counts. Every minute counts," says Army Col. Jim Rooney, chief for development at the Army's Test and Evaluation Command.
Unfortunately for Capt. Birge, who leads twice-weekly convoys through Iraq's restive Sunni heartland, the new armored Humvees and specially designed add-on armor kits won't arrive until later this fall. His deployment ends in September. Recently he bolted more scrap steel to the back of his Humvee in the hope that it would provide him a little extra protection. Earlier this week, insurgents dynamited a section of the highway he travels regularly.
"I don't know what the Army has planned for me next," he wrote in an e-mail from Iraq in early March. "But it's definitely time to stop ordering the Humvees with the canvas doors."
Write to Greg Jaffe at email@example.com
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