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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005





Part IV

Sustaining the Campaign


Chapter 12
Logistics and Combat Service Support Operations

 

Survivability of Logistics Vehicles

Insurgent attacks on US and Coalition convoys in 2004 dramatically altered transportation planning and Army equipment fielding. Vulnerabilities inherent in manning traffic control points, patrolling, and running convoys throughout the country focused attention on the need for additional armor protection for vehicles, particularly the Army’s fleet of unarmored M998 HMMWVs. When OIF began, as in every previous war the US Army has fought, logistical vehicles were largely unarmored or lightly armed. Designed to function behind the front lines of conventional operations, CSS units were not expected to need the same degree of protection and firepower as combat units. The “360-degree” Iraqi insurgency once again exposed the danger of this approach.

In 1996, in response to the need for a wheeled vehicle with some armor protection against mines and to replace tanks and armored personnel carriers on Balkan roads, the Army commissioned the development of a prototype “up-armored” HMMWV designated as the M1114. This version of the HMMWV quickly became the vehicle of choice for operations in that relatively benign AO due to its increased mobility and lowered maintenance needs relative to tracked vehicles. Requirements in Bosnia and Kosovo did not seem to require logistical and other “soft-skinned” vehicles be similarly “up-armored.”

The Army units that entered Iraq in March 2003 did not employ the M1114 because it was not part of their standard equipment. Nor were any of the CSS vehicles in these units armored. With few exceptions, ground combat in Phase III of OIF was conducted with vehicles specifically designed for battle—Abrams tanks, BFVs, Paladin howitzers, etc. As units transitioned to full spectrum operations, however, the greater mobility, speed, and lower maintenance needs of wheeled vehicles made them the favored vehicle for most units. The nature of operations faced by Coalition forces meant essentially that every Soldier and vehicle had to employ some protective measures in every direction at all times. As attacks on US forces increased over the summer, CJTF-7 began to submit requirements through the Joint Staff for armored wheeled vehicles. Those numbers increased steadily and rapidly in the fall of 2003 as CJTF-7 imposed restrictions on the use of nonarmored vehicles in its operations.75 In August 2003 CENTCOM placed urgent requests for such protection with the Department of the Army.76 The scope of the task was immense because, by late 2003, CJTF-7 employed some 12,000 HMMWVs and 16,000 other wheeled vehicles.

The Army categorized the level of armor protection for noncombat vehicles using a three-tiered structure. Level I protection could only be achieved by vehicles manufactured with armor built into the original design of the vehicle. Level II protection was achieved by installing specially made, add-on armor plates and glass to vehicles that provided nearly the same level of protection as Level I vehicles. Level III protection was created by the ever-present ingenuity and initiative of the American Soldier and consisted of various ad hoc measures—Soldiers often called this “Hillbilly armor.” Units in Iraq and Kuwait installed steel plate, sandbags, and other materiel on vehicles to fill the immediate need for protection. The “gun truck” efforts by Army transporters stand out in this regard, but nearly every US unit took matters into their own hands while they awaited the installation of Level II kits or the arrival of Level I vehicles.

The HMMWV Level II kits added between 2,000 and 4,000 pounds to the standard HMMWV, depending on the variant. The kit included steel plating and ballistic-resistant windows offering improved protection against small arms fire and shrapnel. The add-on kits did not provide protection against mines or explosives detonated under the vehicle. To meet the Level II up-armor requirement while Level I production in the US was ramped up, US Army Tank-Automotive and Armament Command (TACOM) contracted for the production of add-on armor kits for the HMMWV in October 2003. The first 15 test kits were flown to Kuwait in November 2003. The contract specifications required that the weight of the kits leave the HMMWV with a 1,000-pound payload, be easily installed in theater, and that 6,700 of them be manufactured by April 2004. Steel and protective glass manufacturers suspended commercial orders to meet the demand for materiel and the kits were produced at seven different Army depots and arsenals in the United States.77

Seven companies produced almost 9,000 HMMWV kits by July 2004 and produced 13,000 kits by May 2005. In late 2004 TACOM also tasked its producers to make 4,200 Level II armor kits for the cabs of the Army’s 5-ton, M939-series, cargo trucks.78 These kits were entirely separate armored cabs that replaced the unarmored cabs.79 In the 18 months after November 2003, TACOM supervised the production by 8 manufacturers of 20 vehicle-specific variants of add-on armor kits for 27,000 vehicles. The kits were installed in 6 different nations, at 16 separate sites in the CENTCOM AOR, by 650 Government and contract workers.80


The M1114 was the only armored logistics vehicle in production when OIF began. In May 2003 production lines could produce 30 M1114s per month. By December 2004 production had reached 400 per month, and by September 2005 the rate had increased to 650 per month.81 Many variants of the up-armored HMMWV have since been produced. Though production increases were significant, they failed to keep pace with the urgency and scope of the requirements in Iraq.

While the Army stood up these programs, the issue of armor protection was being discussed in the media throughout 2004 and became a national controversy. On 8 December 2004 Army Specialist Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee National Guard asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at a gathering of some 2,300 Soldiers and media at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, “Why do we Soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?”82 Whether the story was exaggerated (scavenging for parts in wartime has never been unusual), or even planted by a hostile reporter, the question generated a firestorm of criticism of the Army for allegedly failing to protects its Soldiers.

On 9 December 2004, the day following the gathering in which Wilson raised his question, Lieutenant General R. Steven Whitcomb, Third Army and CFLCC Commander, hosted a special Defense Department briefing on the subject of armored vehicles. He explained that CENTCOM had approximately 30,000 wheeled vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan—some 6,000 were Level I vehicles with built-in protection, 10,000 had Level II add-on protection, 4,500 had some form of ad hoc Level III protection, and roughly 8,000 had no armor protection. Many of the vehicles in the latter category did not operate outside of fixed sites or secure areas. Units had long abandoned the practice of using unarmored vehicles for tactical operations, but logistics units still had to haul supplies, fuel, and other equipment despite the lack of armor.83

Issues of protection also influenced the Army’s first deployment of Stryker combat vehicles in its newly formed Stryker Brigade Combat Teams (SBCTs), the middleweight part of the Army’s three-pronged transformation effort launched in 1999. The Army’s first SBCT, the 3d Brigade, 2d ID, deployed to Iraq in December 2003 and formed the core of what would be called Task Force (TF) Olympia. The 8,000 Soldiers of TF Olympia replaced the 24,000 Soldiers of the 101st ABN in Mosul, Iraq. Though high-tech, reactive armor kits were part of the original Stryker design, they were not ready for use in 2003 or 2004. The Army equipped the Stryker fleet with an unusual add-on armor system to defeat RPG rounds in Iraq. The design had its roots in Vietnam and World War II, consisting of 2.5 tons of steel slats spaced a few inches apart surrounding the vehicle and designed to detonate the shaped charge warheads of RPGs. Though ungainly and derisively called the birdcage, it proved to be quite effective. Both the Stryker vehicle fleet and the unit design gave a good accounting of themselves. The 3d SBCT lost only two Strykers during its year in Iraq, one to a mine and one to an RPG round that detonated against the slat armor and started a secondary fire on equipment attached to the hull.84

These various up-armor kit programs were only a part of the Army’s overall efforts to improve, field, and sustain its fleet of vehicles in OIF. Too numerous to describe or list here, the effort included new HMMWV gunner platforms, new track and road wheel designs for the Abrams and Bradley fleets, new armored versions of the light medium tactical vehicle (LMTV) and the family of medium tactical vehicle (FMTV) cargo trucks, and reactive armor kits for M113 personnel carriers. The Army also had to stand up substantial in-theater and US-based rebuild programs to repair battle losses from OIF. Even though the Army’s vaunted M1A1 and M1A2 Abrams tanks proved extremely lethal and survivable in urban combat, the Tank Urban Survivability Kit (TUSK) program provided numerous upgrades to the tank commander’s and loader’s machinegun stations, side armor, and driver’s sights, among others.85

In 2003 the Army’s HMMWV and logistical vehicle fleets were not designed to withstand enemy attacks. The vehicles in these fleets were designed to move supplies and equipment forward from safe rear areas to front-line units along routes not under direct enemy attack. The noncontiguous front lines in full spectrum operations, however, meant that these vehicles and convoys were in great danger as soon as they departed secure sites; there were simply no areas safe from enemy attack. By late summer 2003 the worsening security environment in Iraq forced CJTF-7 and CENTCOM commanders to place significant demands on the Army to up-armor logistical vehicles. Those demands grew immensely in 2004 as commanders required every vehicle operating outside secure sites to be up-armored. The Army and the nation struggled to meet the demand for increased production of armored wheeled vehicles, add-on armor kits, and other hardened equipment throughout 2004. The Army and civilian contractors accomplished remarkable feats; still, budget limitations and national manufacturing capacity complicated their efforts. Every Soldier wounded or killed in an unarmored vehicle caused unbearable institutional pain. No plan, no matter how rapidly executed, could fill the vacuum created by decades of decisions about doctrine and equipment.


Chapter 12. Logistics and Combat Service Support Operations





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