Transcript: Do Humvees Leave U.S. Troops Open to Attack?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, April 27, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

DAVID ASMAN, GUEST HOST: Soldiers in World War II got around in jeeps. Our troops today drive Humvees (search). They get around all right, but are they overly vulnerable to attack? "Newsweek" reports that the Pentagon is worried about the lack of armored vehicles for our troops in Iraq. The magazine's Michael Hirsch (search) joins me now from Washington. The big question, Michael, are Humvees doing the job for our troops in Iraq?

MICHAEL HIRSCH, "NEWSWEEK": No, I think that they are badly underprotected, given the insurgents that they have to face. We've seen an informal study, which suggests that perhaps a quarter of the troops who have died over there did not need to die because they were riding around in under protected vehicles.

ASMAN: Let's just stop right there, and at the risk of turning people's lives into statistics, how many lives do you think were lost as a result of folks driving around in Humvees?

HIRSCH: There's no way of knowing, with the study cites coalition deaths, including non-American, but mainly American up until April 15, of 789 deaths, about 200 of them were of soldiers who were riding around in a Humvees or otherwise unprotected. And, you know, the studies — numbers suggest that perhaps those lives could have been saved.

ASMAN: If these folks were driving around in Bradleys, say, would they be just as vulnerable, or do you think their lives would be saved?

HIRSCH: Oh, no. I mean, Bradleys — I rode around in a Bradley myself while I was there. The Bradley is a heavily armored vehicle, much more resistant to RPG, rocket-propelled grenades, or IEDS, improvised explosive devices of the kinds that have really harmed our soldiers riding around in Humvees.

ASMAN: So, their Humvee was used in the initial stages of the war to some good affect, correct?

HIRSCH: Well, Humvee ...

ASMAN: Just that in this particular — the operations that we're involved in now may be inappropriate to the Humvee, but at first they were?

HIRSCH: Well, you know, in the war phase, major combat phase, you had a lot more heavy armor, tanks, Bradleys in there. For example, where there were about 400 operational tanks in there at the end of — by the end of April of last year, when major combat ended, now we hear there's only about 70 tanks. And a lot of the Humvees, particularly the unarmored ones, were sent in to do peacekeeping and civil reconstruction. The problem now is that they're facing real combat, intensifying combat, and still riding around in many of those Humvees.

ASMAN: Here's the question. Do we try to armor the Humvees or do we just bring in a whole lot more Bradleys if we can get them and manufacture them in time?

HIRSCH: Well, both are happening right now. The Pentagon is responding. Companies in the U.S. are up armoring, sending out new up armored Humvees, which means the Humvees that are higher horsepower that can stand the weight, the extra weight of the armor. And at the same time, more tanks and I believe more Bradleys are being sent in.

ASMAN: Here is the bottom line, really, that you point out in your article. The cost of a Humvee, $50,000. The cost of a Bradley, $3.17 million each. The cost of a Stryker, the Stryker combat vehicle, $1.4 million. There is a bottom line here isn't there?

HIRSCH: Of course, there's a bottom line. But, you know, the question is what's the bottom line on a human life, on the life of a soldier? And many more have been wounded grievously as a result of being unprotected.

ASMAN: The problem is how fast can you turn these out? You can't just snap your fingers and suddenly manufacture these things.

HIRSCH: Well, they are doing it now, they are putting out 300 a month and the army is still about 1800 short of where it wants to be in terms of armored Humvees. But they will get there eventually.

ASMAN: Is there any future at all for the Humvee in a combat zone?

HIRSCH: I think that the future of the — the lessons, there will be a lot of lessons learned from this over the years, what happened in Iraq. And I think the up armored Humvee, which is more expensive, but better protection, is probably going to become the sort of peacekeeping vehicle of the future, as opposed to the ones we have now, which are pretty wide open and vulnerable. I think that is going to be one of the enduring lessons of this conflict.

ASMAN: Michael Hirsch from "Newsweek" magazine. Michael, thank you very much coming.


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