Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Army Leaders Contemplate Options to Improve Truck Armor

Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Army Leaders Contemplate Options to Improve Truck Armor

Article excerpt

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.

The fast-and-furious surge in armor production started more than a year ago, and is likely to continue for some time. Facing a daily average of 20 to 30 suicide bombs and roadside explosives targeting U.S. troops in Iraq, commanders are not allowing soldiers to leave their bases unless they are in armored vehicles.

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 arc not factory-quality, but are Armyapproved 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. …

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