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Responding to the Dems’ armor shortage meme

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By Michelle Malkin  •  February 17, 2007 08:40 PM

***856am Eastern 2/17 updated with troop feedback from Iraq below and armored Humvee photos***

254pm Eastern 2/17 update: GOP blocks Senate vote on House anti-surge resolution

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Whenever leftists need to show they really, really do care more about the troops than their political opponents, they pull out the armor card. Hillary Clinton did it a year ago. A Rumsfeld-bashing reporter bragged about coaching a soldier into spotlighting the armor gap two years ago. (See below for links to blog posts on the subject published over the last three years.)

Now, following a Feb. 11 WaPo story, “Thousands of Army Humvees Lack Armor Upgrade,” the armor shortage is again a rallying cry of the Left as it prepares to defund the war. The New York Times editorial board has a born-again interest in the matter. Democrat strategist Julie Roginsky also repeated the meme on tonight’s O’Reilly Factor. And, natch, Ted Kennedy is on the bandwagon.

For the record, here is the Army’s full response:

Recent media reports and a three-page summary from a classified Defense Department Inspector General report suggest the Army may have difficulty meeting its equipment requirements with regard to the recently announced troop increase in Iraq. These media reports are inaccurate and paint an incomplete picture. The U.S. Army’s priority is sending only the best trained and equipped Soldiers into combat operations and that means providing the best force protection equipment for Soldiers. Even as we plus up troops in Operation Iraqi Freedom and beyond, force protection will not be shortchanged. Further, the Army will ensure all these Soldiers continue to have the best and most capable equipment in the world.

“Combat is an inherently dangerous and risky endeavor,” said Brig. Gen. Chuck Anderson, a senior leader for the Army’s force development section. “The one area the Army will not accept risk is in the protection of our most valuable resource – the Soldier. As our additional forces reach Iraq, they will have the most modern force protection equipment available.”

The Army began the Global War on Terrorism with equipment shortages totaling $56 billion from previous decades. In the last several years, the Army has transformed itself more than any other military in history and rapidly acquires ever-improving equipment on a scale not seen since World War II. This agility was forced by the reality of the battlefield: urban combat, the enemy’s selection of casualty producing weapons like Improvised Explosive Devices, and the need to operate in dispersed locations across vast distances are examples. As the combat environment our Soldiers fight in continues to change, the requirements for the type of equipment necessary to fight successfully and win also change.

So, while engaged in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, training and rotating thousands of Soldiers and their units year after year, the Army has provided Soldiers with the best in individual body armor and continues to improve that protective system as technology evolves. In Iraq alone, the Army has gone from a low of 400 up-armored Humvees to nearly 15,000 up-armored Humvees patrolling neighborhoods, protecting troops, and mitigating risk from most types of enemy munitions.

And, while all these improvements have been substantial, the comprehensive process of assessing lessons learned to find and accelerate technological advancements to Soldiers continues.

An excellent example is how the Army is improving the Humvee, based on the ever-changing battlefield threat. As of this date, the Army has produced enough Frag Kit #5 Retrofit kits to outfit every Humvee in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thousands of these kits are being flown into theater every month and they are being installed in theater, 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure Soldiers have the best protection available. Retrofit of vehicles being used in Iraq and Kuwait has been synchronized with the plus-up, and is scheduled to be completed this Spring. Retrofits of vehicles being used in Afghanistan are scheduled to be completed this Summer. Bottom line and contrary to news reports, the Army has sufficient up-armored Humvees being produced or fitted with Frag Kit #5 and all other force protection and safety enhancements to meet the plus-up requirement. These vehicles are being shipped directly from the factory to theater to ensure no Soldier “crosses the berm” in a Humvee without Frag Kit #5.

The draft Defense Department Inspector General report, also much-discussed in the media, is an anecdote-based survey that includes interviews with Soldiers about their experiences from 2004-2005 in Afghanistan, and the experiences of multi-Service Members (slightly more than half were U.S. Army) from various units in Iraq in May 2006. We are closely reviewing the Inspector General’s findings and recommendations, always ready to apply lessons learned.

The report’s findings for Iraq were actually positive, and in almost all categories there were no equipment shortages in Army units there. Almost all of the Army shortages described in the report were in Afghanistan, with the majority of those shortages in Task Force Phoenix, the US-lead coalition force that trains Afghan security forces. The equipping conditions described in Afghanistan, though accurate for the report’s time period, are dated. The requirement for more and more Afghan security forces means the requirement for US personnel and equipment to execute the train-and-equip mission has increased even further since the date of the report. And these new requirements are being addressed right now. “We’ve had steady and continuous improvement in force protection assets over the past year,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Durbin, the senior American trainer for Afghan security forces. “To date, the increased critical force protection requirement my command has identified has been validated and approved and I am totally confident that everything possible is being done to ensure that equipment arrives in theater as quickly as possible.”

Also, the DoD IG report’s finding that the Army lacks a standard process to determine equipping requirements is incorrect. The Army Requirement and Resource Board (AR2B), a weekly three-star level event with key overseas headquarters linked by video teleconference is the process that reviews emerging theater requirements and operational needs and determines how to solve equipping problems for deployed and deploying units. Through this process – in place and continually refined since early 2003 — the Army continues to work closely with commanders on the ground, U.S. Central Command, the Joint Staff and the Defense Department to provide Soldiers and other U.S. forces with needed equipment in a timely manner. Unlike the report’s recommendation, the Army believes that it would be inefficient to simply follow a rigid, uniform approach in equipping forces in view of the constantly changing realities on the battlefield. Instead, the Army’s process responds rapidly and flexibly to the assessments that commanders continually make in the field in determining the exact resources they require to accomplish their missions and safeguard the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines under their command. With each new assessment, the Army has been quick to respond, and will continue to do so.

Facing even greater requirements now in 2007, and to ensure full protection with no compromises, the Army has developed a plan to make use of every available asset worldwide to fully equip plus up forces. The essential elements of the plan include:

1. Ensuring Soldiers of deploying units have the equipment they need to train with before deployment.
2. Preparing unit sets of what we call “TPE” (Theater Provided Equipment) for the forces when they arrive in theater.
3. Speeding up production of key “in demand” systems, capabilities and additional equipment like armored trucks.
4. Retro-fitting — in theater or back in the United States — equipment that has been in the fight with updated force protection.
5. Continuously reviewing and streamlining the process to identify, request, validate and deliver needed equipment to the Soldier. The Equipping Common Operating Picture System started Sept. 1, 2006, provides a worldwide collaborative data base and tracking capability for equipment needs and is an example one such improvement made from this constant review.

“We will fully resource our combat commanders for this new plus up mission, and assure them we will satisfy their theater force protection requirements for our Soldiers. It is always the priority mission, “ said Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Programs.

It’s easy for people with no clue about the complexities of logistics to carp about the armor gap at politically expedient times. I think I’ll take the Army’s word over Ted Kennedy’s and the Democrat strategist’s, how about you?

***

Mario Loyola makes some important related points on what he calls “the mythical overstretch:”

It is often said that a unit needs one year back home for training for every year it spends abroad. This is false. What Army doctrine calls for in terms of training as a unit is a period of several weeks meant to integrate new recruits (who have already undergone basic training) and get the whole unit used to working together. The rest of the “rest and training” period is best understood as peacetime activity.

Another common myth is that because many units are reporting at low levels of readiness, they are not fully combat capable. This ignores two things.

First, because there is no reason to waste resources rotating tanks and artillery pieces that are largely fungible, units leave much of their equipment behind in Iraq and Afghanistan for incoming forces to fall upon when they get there. It is by design, then, that the units report “not ready” when they rotate back to the United States. As one Marine officer explained to me, what happens during the peacetime “rest and training” period is that units pool their resources so that they can train effectively with the kinds of equipment they will find when they arrive in theater.

Second, peacetime units are not meeting their targets during the rest period because wartime has pushed those targets sky-high—and they reflect the military’s judgment of what they would ideally want every unit in a uniform force to have for every possible environment and contingency. But as Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace said in recent Senate testimony, there are 40,000 armored vehicles of all kinds in Iraq that didn’t even exist 5 years ago. To lament that the force had higher readiness five years ago than today ignores the fact that both the metrics and the inventories of equipment are astronomically higher now than they were then. And units reporting “not ready” because they don’t have the latest equipment they ideally want can still draw on huge stockpiles of older equipment that is almost as good as the new. It may not be as precise, it may be messier, you may have to use more firepower — but you will still have victory.

As articulated in the the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review Report, our planning construct now calls for being able to fight an entire conventional campaign in addition to our current commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such a campaign night not be able to do regime change, but it would be able to secure a decisive victory. And rest assured the force is there if we need it. What the military has to worry about is recruiting and retention in the out-years, and the plan to increase the size of the active force by 2 whole divisions in the next several years substantially relieves that pressure now.

I’ve asked some troops in Iraq and milbloggers for more thoughts. Will add links and e-mails as they come in.

***

Army Captain Matt Schoenfeldt in Iraq e-mails with his response and photos:

I would first like to point out that this is just one more attempt by the liberals to take an extremely complicated situation, look at one small aspect of the story, and then invent the story that they what to tell. We have over 70,000 M1114 Up-Armored HMMWVs in theatre right now. With that said, it is remarkable that we would be able to retro-fit this number of vehicles with armor in this short of time period while still conducting 24 hour combat operations.

The short version of the story is that they call this upgrade to the Armor, FRAG5 because it is the fifth such armor upgrade to this one vehicle in just the four years of the war. This number of upgrades does not include the turret upgrades and unit driven upgrades. The number of upgrades per truck sits now at a minimum of eight, with only five being manufactured for the body of the truck. A little quick math and that works out to two per year for just one vehicle type, which we happen to have over 70,000 of.

This still is not the whole story. M1114’s are new additions to all units besides Military Police Units. Prior to Iraq Infantry, Armor, Field Artillery, Engineers, or any other unit you can name did not have M1114’s. The need for such trucks were quickly realized during the initial phases of the Iraq War and a rapid fielding was put in place to make this happen. During the initial invasion there were no more than 3,000 M1114’s in theatre. This is another success in the armor fielding, in the matter of about one year they went from 3,000 of these trucks to over 30,0000 and now over 70,000. Additionally there are another 10,000 M1151/1152 in country. A M1151/M1152 is an improved armored version of the M1114 HMMWV.

In addition to the upgrades to all of these 70,000+ M1114s, the Army has upgraded every vehicle that travels out in sector; from ballistic glass for Track Commanders on Tanks and Bradley’s, to armored doors and glass for support vehicles, and everything in between. There is not a single vehicle that goes out in sector that has not been upgraded for threats specific to Iraq. The old vehicles that we initially retrofitted with armor, until the Military rapidly fielded M1114’s to all units, are now relegated to FOB (Forward Operating Base) Runners.

The armored upgrade program is a tremendously successful program and has saved thousands of lives. This story on the armor upgrades has been taken by the media and other uneducated members, and painted a very successful and impressive program as a failure. It is an appalling lack of fact checking by the media and others that should be informed on the issue.

A little more perspective is needed to understand this story fully. When I was here on my first tour from JAN04-FEB05 I started out with a M707 HMMWV without any armor on it at all and I was the Quick Reaction Force Commander for North Western Baghdad. This was not really that big of a problem because IED’s were just and emerging threat. However, within two months of being in country I received armored doors for all six of my trucks, unfortunately not ballistic windshields (this was because of my gun trucks were a specialized Fire Support vehicle that had to have a kit manufactured just for it). We had this set-up for another three months until I was shot threw the windshield of my HMMWV. By the time I got back into country, 41 days later, all my trucks had retro-fitted ballistic windshields. This story is simply to illustrate that if anyone understands the importance of upgrades, I would qualify as an expert on the subject.

In addition to the upgrades to M1114’s and bringing M1114’s into country by the thousands, the Military was upgrading its more traditional unarmored gun trucks like my M707. These were not just soldiers strapping metal on the sides (this did happen but was quickly replaced by the manufactured kits) but were actual manufactured armored kits for these trucks. I personally survived 13 IED attacks against my truck with the armored kits and only sustained one serious injury. Without that interim armor upgrades to my trucks not only would I have died but I would have lost many soldiers to IED attacks. The same trucks that my men and I survived countless IEDs in; are now the trucks that are relegated to FOB duty and not allowed to go out the gate. This all happened in a matter of a year and a half.

When I returned to Iraq in AUG06 I did not even recognize the trucks that I fell in on because of all the different armor upgrades on them. Even since I have been in country I have received three armored upgrades to my trucks. Two of the upgrades to my truck were to my turret (which do not count in the number in the FRAG series upgrades) and the other being the now controversial FRAG5 kit. I have also received two other combat upgrades that are classified but greatly improve the survivability of our trucks against IED attacks.

The bottom line is the equipment, is changing at such a rapid pace to meet the needs of our forces; even being out of theatre for a few months and coming back can be daunting because all the new upgrades and equipment that you would have to learn. The medical field as well has taken tremendous strides forward that include better training and medical supplies that did not even exist before war started. It is amazing how quickly the Military has adapted its forces and equipment for this war the efforts should be applauded by all not belittled by those that do not have there facts straight.

Just another note on this is that out of my teams 7 trucks we have all of our trucks either Objective FRAG5 or Interim FRAG5 and we one M1152. The Objective FRAG5 that was first manufactured in the middle of last year but they had an interim solution that works almost as well by adapting a kit that was for something else and they call that the Interim FRAG5. I have included pictures of an Interim FRAG5, Objective FRAG5, and a M1152 for you to look at.

Photos with captions:

frag5.jpg
This is the acutal truck that I gun for. I am a gunner because of the composition of a MiTT only having 11 people on a team. We have two CPT gunners and a SFC, not your standard mix of gunners.

frag5interim.jpg
This is one of our trucks with the interim FRAG5 on it. Notice the extra plates that stick out from the doors. That is the major part of the upgrade but there are also other plates bolted onto other parts of the frame.

m1151.jpg
This is just like a newer version of the M1114 and it comes from the factory with thicker armor.

***

Feedback from Capt. Aaron Kaufman of the Dagger Brigade at FOB Justice:

This is simply another Red Herring. All of the trucks that leave the FOBs either possess interim FRAG-5 armor kits or the Objective Kits. I have not seen a truck equivalent to what we used over 2 years ago in OIF II on the roads in Baghdad (add on armor kits). Every truck we have is baseline an M1114 or M1151 up-armored HMMWV, not a modified M998 or M1025 (standard HMMWV, no armor). The same type of reporter writes these articles, one you can refer as a Green Zone Sniper. I have personally been impressed with how quickly the Army gets newly developed equipment and technology to the soldiers in the fight. The EFP threat didn’t explode until last year, although we saw their initial use over two years ago.

In any case, the interim or objective armor is only designed to stop the spalling effect (inner debris converted to shrapnel), as there is no reasonable amount of armor that can stop the copper slug. EFPs are equivalent to firing an anti-tank gun at the side of a HMMWV. What will help address the EFP threat? The increase in forces in Baghdad. The FOB mentality, combined with a lack of a persistent presence in sector of US forces, is a greater threat to soldier safety than a lack of passive force protection materials (armor, concrete barriers). That stated, however, there is no shortage of passive FP materials.

Milblogger John Noonan at Op-For:

Logistics, manpower, strategy. This is a holy trinity that should never be tampered with by politicians. Never. Especially politicians who seem to have no clue as to how the military operates. You can’t just wave a magic wand and double the size of the special forces, nor can you interject yourself into the troop rotation schedules. And it’s fantasy to think that a politician jumping himherself into the incredibly military logistics infastructure is going to somehow boost our ability to effectively prosecute a war.

***
Previous:

Body armor: Pentagon pushback
Hillary wraps herself in armor
Help Soldiers’ Angels
The armor gap is real
Armor up: What you can do

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