Is Iraq Armor Shortage a Problem?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Dec. 10, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: We all want the troops to have everything they need, including armored Humvees, but sometimes the army has to prioritize. Is the armor shortage in Iraq a legitimate major problem?

Let's ask retired Brigadier General Nick Halley (search). He was in charge of the 82nd Airborne Corps (search) during the first Gulf War. So, General, should the American people be steamed that American troops in Iraq don't have these armored Humvees even as we speak?

BRIG. GEN. NICK HALLEY, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, I think they should be somewhat upset because, of course, it's been a year since we know that we've needed those. And they've worked very, very hard and upgraded most of them, as you saw from the previous graphic.

But I don't think there's any need for any soldier in Iraq not to have the full complement of armor protection.

GIBSON: Well, I think I heard Bret say — I thought the figure yesterday that was given was that two-thirds of the Humvees are armored, but I think I heard Bret say it's up to 78 percent. Would you consider that good progress for the year?

HALLEY: Well, there's about 8,000 that need to be upgraded, and about 6,000 of them have been upgraded. And that's very, very good progress, if you consider all the bureaucracy that you have to go through to upgrade these vehicles.

But still, we needed to have more progress, because there's really no excuse for any soldier in Iraq not to have the full complement of armor.

GIBSON: OK. You only have to go to Bethesda to see that this has taken a tremendous toll on us. These IEDs blowing up Humvees as they drive by. What explains the tardiness of the response of the Pentagon?

HALLEY: Well, remember that the Humvees and the other thin-skinned vehicles were not designed to have armor. In fact, all of the vehicles that we had thousands and thousands of them in Desert Storm, none of them were armored. We did put sandbags on the floor of these vehicles, just to make sure we had some protection against mines that we might run over.

But these were not designed to be armored. So it was only about a year ago that we discovered that the enemy was going to use the tactic that he did, and so we've really scrambled, the army has, and the Defense Department in the last year, to get these done. And they've done a great job, except it needs to be a little bit more.

GIBSON: General, why was it that somebody in the Pentagon in the planning for post-war Iraq, why didn't it occur to them that the thousands, hundreds of thousands of tons of explosives in Iraq, some of it was going to get used to set off roadside bombs?

HALLEY: Well, I don't think in this particular case — we have had intelligence failures in Iraq — I don't think in this particular case it was an intelligence failure, because we had fought in Iraq before with these same type of vehicles and managed without the armor.

In Monday morning quarterbacking, I think we can see the need for those, but I don't think it was reasonable at the time of this particular war that we would stop what we were doing, spend billions of dollars and delay the attack for a year while we put on this armor.

So, I think the deficiency in this case was not a failure of intelligence.

GIBSON: Do you think it's shocking that American troops are evidently going through scrap heaps looking for pieces of steel to weld on to their vehicles?

HALLEY: I think that's very shocking. And I think all Americans are rightly upset about that, and we need to get that fixed very, very fast.

GIBSON: By the way, who decides and how did they decide, who gets the armored vehicles?

HALLEY: Well, that's done, of course, at the Defense Department level, and it's normally units are prioritized. And, of course, active duty units are always done first, and the units that are in the worst areas are done first. For example, the units that are around Fallujah or Baghdad will be higher priority than the ones perhaps that are down further south.

GIBSON: So do you think this problem is coming to a close, or has this exposed a weakness in the command structure, in seeming not to pay enough attention to the needs of the soldiers, as you might want?

HALLEY: Well, I think it's coming to a close, but if you look at the statistics we heard today, there's still about 2,000 Humvees that need to be upgraded. They're doing them at the rate of 400 a month; now with this increase it'll be 500 a month.

That still is another four or five months where soldiers are going to be in Humvees that aren't armor protected. So, it's somewhat upsetting.

GIBSON: What about these trucks? Only 15 percent of those are armored up to protect the driver.

HALLEY: Right. I haven't seen a time schedule on that, but that must be at least six months or a year out before that's going to happen. So people are going to be vulnerable for some period of time, obviously.

GIBSON: General, do you find it so surprising that soldiers would recognize their own vulnerability and say, "I'm going to do something about this myself. I'm going to get some plate steel and weld it on there."?

HALLEY: No, absolutely not. Soldiers are very, very innovative and they are always doing what they call "field expedience" in many, many different areas to improve the equipment or to improve their way of life. So, this is very typical of American soldiers to do whatever's necessary to get the job done.

GIBSON: General, do you blame Don Rumsfeld for this problem?

HALLEY: No, I don't really blame anyone particularly for this problem, but somewhere in the defense establishment there's somebody that knew how many vehicles needed to be changed; the rate that the armor was being made; and the date that all this was going to be completed.

And I think there's somebody that should have said the date of completion is not acceptable. So, instead of having two manufacturers of armor, perhaps we should have had four or five companies doing it. Instead of having six places that were putting the armor on the vehicles, maybe we needed 12 or 15 or whatever it took. So, there was some foot dragging there, obviously.

GIBSON: Brigadier General Nick Halley. General, thanks very much, appreciate you coming on.

HALLEY: Thank you very much, John.

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