Army Meets Tough Procurement Challenge Head-On
by Lt. Gen. Lawrence P. Farrell, Jr., USAF (Ret)
The Army’s ability to supply soldiers with armored vehicles has been the source of much debate. Key questions have emerged from this discussion, such as whether the military services were prepared to deal with escalating violence against U.S. troops in Iraq and whether the industry is capable of surging quickly enough to respond to growing equipment demands.
The response to the steep increase in demand for armored vehicles in fact has been a remarkable success story. Once it became clear that U.S. soldiers and Marines needed thousands more armored vehicles than were available in the inventory, the Army’s ramp-up was impressive.
In short, the Army has been able to deliver, only in about 18 months, more than 8,400 up-armored Humvees, and is about to meet the full requirement, which currently stands at 10,079.
More than 12,800 armor appliqué kits, which are installed on several types of trucks to protect windshields and doors, also have been shipped to Iraq. This puts the Army close to meeting the required number of 13,872.
It is worth noting that in the early phase of the Iraq conflict, the original requirement was only for 350 up-armored Humvees. In the fall of 2003, U.S. Central Command requested 1,000 vehicles. The proliferation of improvised roadside explosives and suicide bombers in Iraq rapidly drove up requirements. Facing a daily average of 20 to 30 suicide bombs and roadside explosives, commanders decided to not allow soldiers to leave their bases unless they were in armored vehicles.
The Army’s prime contractor for Humvee armor, Armor Holdings Inc., expanded its production capacity by orders of magnitude to reach its current level of 500 trucks per month. Just five years ago, the company was only armoring 35 to 40 trucks per month.
The Army’s Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command—and its network of industrial depots—led efforts to design and produce add-on armor kits. TACOM partnered with four private companies (International Steel Group, Clifton Steel, U.S. Secure Glass and Protective Armored Systems) for the delivery of steel and ballistic glass. A total of 105 companies, coupled with 19 military installations in 25 states and three countries, participated in providing services, parts and raw materials to support the Humvee program. Installation in-theater has been performed collectively by TACOM employees, contractors and military troops.
The standard-issue Humvee, it should be pointed out, was never designed or previously required to protect against improvised explosive devices, rocket propelled grenades or small arms. Administrative and logistical vehicles, in general, were to remain in the rear, away from the line of fire. All that changed in Iraq, where the battlefield has no clear demarcations between the front and the rear, and the logistics convoys are prime targets of insurgent attacks.
Notably, the Army was able to design, test and prototype armor kits within four months (between August and November 2003), and began deliveries in December.
Having learned from the experience, Army leaders are working to figure out a long-term strategy to ensure the service can better prepare to meet sudden surges in equipment needs. It has 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. 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.
A key tenet of the truck strategy is to make every vehicle “armor ready,” said Gen. Benjamin Griffin, commander of the Army Materiel Command. That does not mean the Army will armor every truck, but it will have add-on kits available when needed. New trucks also will be built with improved suspensions so they can better withstand the additional weight of the armor kits.
This will require a substantial growth in the budget for tactical-wheeled vehicles, officials said. Congressional supplemental appropriations already have begun to fund improvements in the fleet and the procurement of additional trucks.
As to whether the Army should have done a better job predicting requirements for armored trucks before the violence in Iraq erupted, there is no easy answer. But the Army does recognize that it can do better in anticipating requirements. “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 tactical-wheeled vehicles board of directors.
During a tour of truck-armoring shops at military bases in Iraq, O’Reilly said he learned soldiers appreciated the armor kits, but asked that they be made easier to install and maintain.
To minimize these hassles, O’Reilly said, the Army will build appliqué armor that does not require heavy tools. To install one of the earlier Humvee kits, for example, engineers had to bore holes, reinforce pillars, create new hinges and provide a new windshield.
In the context of the Army’s truck program, it is important to recognize that it would be unrealistic to expect the Defense Department to build a military force that can respond to every conceivable scenario. Thousands of contingencies are modeled in war games. For the most part, the services have achieved much success by relying on war games to tailor their concepts and tactics.
As military planners continue to study the lessons from this conflict, we should acknowledge the accomplishments attained so far and view the Humvee story not only as an example of successful and rapid response to new requirements by the Army and industry, but also as an invaluable case study for the challenges we face in defense procurement.
Please email me your comments to Lfarrell@ndia.org