WASHINGTON – The Army has entered negotiations with an armor manufacturer in an effort to accelerate production of armored versions of the Humvee to get them to the troops more quickly, Army and company officials said.
Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey spoke with officials at Armor Holdings, Inc (search)., based in Jacksonville, Fla., who told him Friday they could increase production by up to 100 vehicles a month.
Army officials had previously believed the factory was working at capacity until the company told the news media Thursday that it could make more. Democrats immediately criticized the Bush administration for not boosting production sooner.
Still, company officials said the Armor Holdings plant was not immediately capable of boosting output. Armor Holdings said in a statement issued Friday that it could increase its rate of production by February or March.
"During the interim period, we will continue to build as many vehicles as possible, as we have done to date. In fact, we are currently ahead of the Army's production schedule by more than 330 total vehicles," the statement said.
In addition, the Army would also have to go to Congress for additional funding if Armor Holdings sought more money, officials said.
The Army has ordered 8,105 of the armored Humvees, and 5,910 are in Iraq, Afghanistan and nearby countries. Armor Holdings is already producing 450 a month, meaning they would be finished sometime in the early spring. Any increased production by the company before then would accelerate the completion of the order.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfield (search), responding to a soldier's complaint about not enough armored vehicles for the troops, said Wednesday the Army was working to produce more armored vehicles, but it was "a matter of physics, not a matter of money," suggesting that production lines at operating at capacity.
But Armor Holdings spokesman Michael Fox said Thursday that the company recently completed an analysis after the Marines inquired about buying 50 to 100 armored vehicles each month.
"We determined it was doable," Fox said.
Armor Holdings said it expected to produce about 4,000 armored vehicles this year, compared to 500 in 2001, 600 in 2002, and 850 in 2003.
Cost of the armored Humvees is about $150,000 each.
Production has to be coordinated with AMC General LLC of South Bend, Ind., which produces the trucks used to make the Armored Humvees.
Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry (search), who continually decried the lack of equipment during his unsuccessful presidential campaign, on Friday called on Rumsfeld to investigate.
Several companies that manufacture protective equipment have indicated they can significantly boost production, Kerry said in a letter to Rumsfeld.
There are thousands more Humvees in Iraq that were built without the extra armor. The military has purchased thousands of kits with bolt-on armor, but several thousand Humvees, and thousands more heavy trucks, remain without armor for use against insurgent bombs, guns and rockets.
The soldier's question to Rumsfeld, at a town-hall meeting in Kuwait this week, has led critics to ask why the Pentagon has been unable to send enough armored equipment 21 months into the war. They said war planners had too rosy a picture of how the campaign would last and didn't think so many troops and so much armor would be needed for so long.
"This is about faulty analysis and a failed strategy," said Rep. Ellen Tauscher (search), a California Democrat who sits on the House Armed Services Committee. "We've never had enough troops on the ground since the fall of Saddam Hussein 's government to deal with the insurgency because we didn't expect one."
Loren Thompson, a defense industry analyst with the Lexington Institute think tank, agreed.
"We have pretty much miscalculated every step along the way — why we went, how we should do it, what we needed, what support we would have, how long it would last — we pretty much got it all wrong," he said.
There was far too little advanced body armor and there were too few armored vehicles to deal with what the Pentagon has since acknowledged is a far stronger and longer insurgency than expected. Officials say more is being manufactured as fast as possible.