Critics claim Humvee unsuitable for mission

Published 5:00 am Monday, May 2, 2005

A Wesson native and army officer continues to question why themilitary is so resistant to changing from the Humvee to othervehicles more suitable to urban warfare in Iraq.

Lt. Col. Jim Hampton, currently stationed in Panama after a tourin Iraq, began a letter-writing campaign to senior militaryofficers and public officials at all levels to urge them toreconsider the Humvee role in Iraq combat operations while stillstationed in the combat zone.

“Like the Redcoats continuing to march into a hail of musketfire we continue to send our troops out on patrol and convoys invehicles that are ill-suited for the task,” he said. “Even if itwere valid to say that’s what we had when we went to into battle,it is not valid now knowing the other options available.”

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Lt. Col. Tim Powell, director of Mississippi Army National Guardpublic affairs, said the Humvee is the Army’s primary source oftransportation both inside and outside of Iraq.

The government has acknowledged the Humvee has severalshortcomings and has attempted to correct them. The latest attempt,which is only present on a few, but growing, number of armoredHumvees is the Common Remote Operated Weapon System, or CROWS,which allows the vehicle’s gunner to fire the roof-mounted turretweapon from inside the vehicle rather than from the turret, wherehe is exposed from the waist up.

It is an improvement, Hampton admitted, but not one thatsignificantly impacts the versatility of the role the Humvee isbeing used for in Iraq.

“Primarily because the armor is insufficient to withstand theblasts they are frequently exposed to,” he said. “I’ve used theanalogy a number of times that we would not send our troops intobattle in Humvees going up against armor and artillery, yet that istantamount to what we’re doing. The fact that an artillery round isnot launched from a gun tube matters little when it detonates nextto your vehicle.”

Staff Sgt. David Sanders, a Monticello soldier assigned to the155th Infantry Battalion of the 155th Brigade Combat Team currentlystationed in Iraq, said the unit has three types of Humvees.

Level One is armored at the factory and has about 3/4 inch thickaluminum doors with plates in and around the transmission as wellas the floor pans, he said. The windows are made of layered glassand transparent plastic.

“Level Two is what we call the ‘after market’ Hummer,” he said.”It basically has 3/8 and 1/4 inch steel added to the bottomcorners of each side and the doors have been replaced with shapedsteel with windows smaller but made like Level One. There are noplates on the bottom of Level Two so we add sand bags and platesteel floor mats for protection from ‘bottom blasts.'”

Level Two is the most common Humvee in the unit, Sanderssaid.

The Level Three Humvee is referred to by the soldiers as”Hillbilly” armor, he said. It uses any plate steel that can bewelded to the outside and can not, by order of the Army, be usedoff base.

“There is one that has plates of different shapes all weldedtogether. Each plate is also a different color. I don’t know who itbelongs to, but it has Sanford & Sons written in chalk on theside,” he said, referring to the hit sitcom that aired from 1972 to1977 starring Red Foxx as junkyard owner Fred Sanford.

Sanders said the armor on the Level One and Two Humvees ishelping, but the armor poses its own problems.

“The main problem with the Hummers is the front ends,” he said.”The upgrades mean stronger shocks and bars on the front end. Theproblem is there are very little spare parts to repair the damagedfront ends and some of the Hummers with armor kits that were addedhere don’t include the stronger parts for the front end. This meanswe use a lot of tires and shocks.”

Powell said the 155th BCT was the unit deployed to Iraq with allHumvees armored at level one or level two as standardequipment.

The Army has also recently upgraded all of the 155th’s Humveesradio systems to include encrypted frequencies.

“Secure communications saves lives because the insurgency cannot monitor those communications to locate them,” Powell said. “TheFirst Army really pushed this for the 155th.”

The Army is utilizing a combination of strategies to combat thethreat of IEDs. Aside from the encrypted radios to deny theinsurgency convoy routes, some Humvees are equipped with anelectronic jammer to block the remote signals insurgents use to armand set off the IEDs.

In Hampton’s opinion, the Army should simply stop trying tomodify the Humvee for missions it was not designed for and beginsupplying troops with vehicles designed for urban warfare.

“Up-armored Humvees offer little more protection against IEDs,the most common threat, than unarmored Humvees,” he said. “TheSouth Africans learned this lesson a long time ago.”

Hampton questions why the U.S. cannot learn from the hardexperiences of others but must go through the process itself.

“The South Africans learned these lessons long ago and havedeveloped a family of vehicles that are well-suited for protectingpersonnel against the types of threats we encounter in the Iraqiand Afghan theaters,” he said. “American manufacturers have clonedthese vehicles. There are a number of these vehicles, South Africanand U.S. clones, currently in theater. Additionally, the U.S. Armyalso has a vehicle known as the Armored Security Vehicle (ASV)which maintains a stellar performance record and provides farsuperior protection, and firepower, for our troops.”

The South African Wer’Wolf and the ASV both provide muchstronger armor, to protect the troops from IEDs androcket-propelled grenades, while keeping all soldiers inside thevehicle. The turret is operated inside with a system similar to thenew CROWS installed on some Humvees in the Iraqi theater, thereforenot exposing the gunner to small arms fire and shrapnel fromIEDs.

The vehicles also feature gun ports so soldiers can defendthemselves from inside the vehicle. Humvees have no way forsoldiers to fight from within without lowering the windows.

Instead, Hampton said, the military continues to spend researchand development funds on creating a way to adapt the Humvee tourban warfare conditions, which then costs additional funding toimplement.

Powell argued that any vehicle would be susceptible to the levelof explosives being employed by the insurgents.

“Regardless of the type of vehicle you’re in, what can stand theblast of three artillery shells set off together?” Powell asked.”Not much could withstand a blast like that.”

Federal officials have responded to the IED threat by steppingup the research and development of IED defenses.

According to Aerospace Daily and Defense Report, the Navy hasdirected roughly $28 million and 75 scientists from the Office ofNaval Research to counter-IED research and development, along withanother $12 million from other Navy budgets going to fund grants touniversities and other laboratories.

The specific focus of those efforts include robots, IEDelectronic countermeasures, X-ray systems and specialized searchdogs.