BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. military commanders in Iraq, where bombings pose the deadliest threat to their soldiers, have welcomed news the Pentagon wants to speed up production of upgraded armored Humvees (search), a military spokesmen said Saturday.
The issue of whether the military is providing enough protection for its troops received new attention this week after an Iraq-bound National Guardsman questioned Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) during a visit to neighboring Kuwait on why he and his comrades must scrounge through scrap piles for metal to protect their vehicles.
The Army said Friday it was negotiating with an armor manufacturer, Florida-based Armor Holdings Inc. (search), to accelerate production of upgraded M1114, or Level 1, Humvees. The company said it could boost monthly production from the current 450 vehicles to 550 in February or March.
"Commanders are looking for any opportunity to increase force protection for the sake of their troops," said Maj. Neal O'Brien, spokesman for the Tikrit-based 1st Infantry Division. "Uparmor or add-on armor will always be one of those force protection assets they want more of."
Sgt. Eric Grill, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said the request for boosted production first came in 2003, after homemade roadside bombs — known as improvised explosive devices — emerged as the insurgent weapon of choice in Iraq.
"We recognized this and changed our tactics to deal with the enemy," Grill said.
The most coveted Humvee among troops in Iraq is the M1114, which has protected glass windows and armament on its sides, front, rear, top and bottom.
"It's known as an uparmored Humvee," Grill said.
Almost 6,000 such Humvees already are in Iraq, he added. They cost about $150,000 each.
Lt. Gen. John Sattler, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, says the M1114 is the "best uparmored vehicle in the world." It can stop AK-47 bullets, anti-personnel RPGs and most roadside bombs and mines.
"We've had those hit with unbelievable improvised explosive devices, where they have blown the tires and the engine off, crushed up the back and the four Marines or soldiers have gotten out, shaken off, and were (back) into the fight," Sattler told The Associated Press.
"But sometimes it just takes time to get the assembly line to produce and I guess you can only go so fast in that area."
The second choice for troops here is to add armor to "soft-skinned" Humvees.
"Add-on armor are prefabricated kits that attach to the outside frame of the Humvees to increase force protection and survivability," O'Brien said.
The kits can be added either in the United States or in Iraq. There are about 10,000 Humvees with add-on kits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sattler said the Humvees with add-on armor were "almost protectionally equal on the ground" to an M1114 and would suffice until the military received more of "uparmored" vehicles.