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The Indianapolis Star May 07, 2004

Army could have bought more armored Humvees

Military understated how many can be made; Senate panel approves $1.2 billion for vehicles, armor

By Ted Evanoff

While U.S. troops facing ambush in Iraq for months demanded more armored Humvees, top Army officials insisted they were ordering as many of the trucks as could be made in Indiana and armored in Ohio.

They turned out to be wrong. Last fall, Army officials insisted that 80 armored Humvees could be produced a month, then raised that estimate to 220. In reality, AM General Corp. of South Bend and Armor Holdings of Fairfield, Ohio, are capable of turning out hundreds more a month, according to company officials.

On Thursday, a Senate panel came up with $1.2 billion for up to 6,000 more of the armored Humvees.

The Senate Armed Services Committee appropriated $618 million for the reinforced trucks and $610 million more to be spent on truck armor. The measure, an amendment sponsored by Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., still must pass the full Senate.

The secretary of the Army said in November that the military was buying every armored Humvee that could be made.

Politicians and parents pointed out that the factories could turn out thousands more of the steel-plated trucks.

"They have consistently underestimated the need for this kind of protection for our troops," Bayh said. "Unfortunately, soldiers have been killed because of that."

U.S. casualties mounted through the summer and fall as guerrillas attacked the thin-skinned Humvees. The Pentagon has not said how many of the 776 U.S. deaths or 3,864 wounded through Tuesday occurred in regular Humvees and other work trucks, but unofficial estimates by Newsweek magazine and some soldiers' parents place the number at a quarter to a third.

Thursday's appropriation measure would open the way for production of 450 armored models a month by fall. The current production rate, which has been gradually ratcheted up since November, is 250 a month, with a goal this summer of 300 a month.

About 2,200 armored models are in Iraq now, most of them rounded up from U.S. Army bases worldwide as the insurgency escalated. The Army, which began the war with 235 of the fortified trucks in Iraq, now figures it needs at least 4,454 there.

Only after politicians in Washington prodded the Army did the procurement orders rise last fall above the 80-a-month level.

AM General is the lone producer of Humvees, a medium-duty truck that replaced the jeep in 1984. The company's 700-employee Mishawaka plant can assemble 18,000 Humvees a year. Last year the plant had orders for fewer than 6,000. Nearly a third were for foreign countries.

Basic models intended for armoring are shipped to suburban Cincinnati, where O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt puts steel plates and Kevlar in the roof, floor and sides and adds ballistic windows.

An armored model costs $200,000 to $250,000, compared with $125,000 for a regular Humvee.

Robert Mecredy, a president of Armor Holdings, which owns O'Gara-Hess, said he "started going ballistic" last fall when he realized O'Gara-Hess was considered the bottleneck. "I put on a full-court press to address the notion that Armor Holdings was incapable of meeting the requirements."

Urged by Bayh and others on the Armed Services Committee, the Army raised procurement orders to 220 a month in November, Mecredy said.

Troops in Iraq pleaded for more.

"My son called me the week before he was killed," said Brian Hart, of Bedford, Mass. "He said they were getting shot at all the time. They were in unarmored Humvees and were out there exposed to the fire. He was concerned they were going to get hit. He was literally whispering this into the phone to me. He was right. That's how he died."

John Hart, a private first class in the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade, was killed in a Humvee on Oct. 18 near Kirkuk.

Brian Hart said he met Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., at his son's funeral Nov. 4 at Arlington National Cemetery. Hart passed on his son's message.

Two weeks later, Kennedy grilled Les Brownlee, the secretary of the Army, in a routine Armed Services Committee hearing. Asked whether the Pentagon was obtaining enough armored Humvees, Brownlee responded, "I've been assured we're buying everything they can produce," according to a Nov. 19 transcript.

Hart said he phoned O'Gara-Hess officials and learned the armorer could expand production. In December, Hart alerted several politicians' staff members. The information reached Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., an Armed Services Committee member.

Reed toured the Ohio plant and confirmed Hart's information. "For the longest time they were willing to produce many more vehicles than the Army was ordering," Reed said.

Pressed by Bayh, Kennedy, Reed and others, Brownlee toured AM General and O'Gara-Hess in February. Orders for the armored vehicles soon escalated to 300 a month. The Ohio plant is ramping up for that now.

Bayh said he thinks the Army stuck to its order for 220 Humvees a month to try to keep the cost of the war down.

"People in the Pentagon were aware these vehicles could be produced in larger numbers."

Maj. Gary Tallman of the Army procurement and technology office said Wednesday: "You had to take into consideration how much we had. We have competing priorities for resources."

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Humvee production

The rise in insurgent attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq during recent months has highlighted the need for additional armored Humvee troop transports. Here are some statistics about the increased pace of their production:

Armored Humvees produced

Long regarded as a vehicle for military police, armored Humvees, which can withstand rifle fire and land mines, are being built in greater numbers as front-line fighting vehicles to face the insurgency in Iraq.

2000: 500 Humvees

2001: 540 Humvees

2002: 650 Humvees

2003: 847 Humvees

2004: (estimated) 2,000

2005: (estimated) 5,400

Details on the modified vehicles

A soldier's safety is dramatically increased if the vehicle has been fortified.

Heavily modified Humvees

Of the nearly 12,000 Humvees in Iraq, about 1,500 to 2,000 are armored.

They are capable of stopping AK-47 bullets, rocket-propelled grenades, most roadside bombs and mines.

Armored vehicles cost $200,000 to $250,000 apiece, compared with about half that for a "soft-skin."

M1114 armored Humvee specifications

Length: 196.5 inches
Width: 74 inches
Curb weight: 9,800 pounds
Accelerates: 0-50 in 17.84 seconds
Tires: 30-mile run-flat range
Range: 275 miles

Sources: Armor Holdings, Senate Armed Services Committee, AM General Corp., The Associated Press and Globalsecurity.org


Copyright 2004, The Indianapolis Star