George Edmonson / Seattle Post-Intelligencer – 2004-12-26 00:18:11
WASHINGTON (December 10, 2004) — The manufacturer of Humvees for the U.S. military and the company that adds armor to the utility vehicles are not running near production capacity and are making all that the Pentagon has requested, spokesmen for both companies said.
“If they call and say, ’You know, we really want more,’ we’ll get it done,” said Lee Woodward, a spokesman for AM General, the Indiana company that makes Humvees and the civilian Hummer versions.
At O’Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt, the Ohio firm that turns specially designed Humvees into fully armored vehicles at a cost of about $70,000 each, spokesman Michael Fox said they, too, can provide more if the government wants them.
Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., said yesterday that the companies could increase production of armored Humvees from 450 a month to 550 by February.
Blaming the shortage on a lack of production capacity, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did Wednesday, is “just not true,” said Bayh. He said he had told the Pentagon as early as April that more armored Humvees could be built.
“It’s essentially a matter of physics,” Rumsfeld told the soldiers in his reply on Wednesday. “It isn’t a matter of money. It isn’t a matter on the part of the Army of desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it.”
But Bayh, in a telephone conference call with reporters, said the problem was another indication of the administration’s underestimation of the risks and demands in Iraq.
“It borders on the naïve,” Bayh added.
Yesterday, President Bush led an administrationwide public relations effort to quell the controversy triggered when a soldier sharply questioned Rumsfeld about shortages of armor for combat vehicles in Iraq at a meeting with troops in Kuwait.
In an e-mail circulated yesterday, a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press traveling with the unit whose soldiers challenged Rumsfeld told colleagues that he had collaborated with the troops to formulate tough questions for the Pentagon chief.
But at a White House photo session yesterday, Bush agreed the soldiers’ worries were legitimate and said, “The concerns expressed are being addressed.
“We expect our troops to have the best possible equipment.”
Bush also said he told families of Marine casualties that he met during a visit to Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Tuesday that “we’re doing everything we possibly can to protect your loved ones in a mission which is vital and important.’ ”
The current monthly production level of armored Humvees is up from as few as 15 in the fall of 2003, said Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita.
According to Army figures, there are almost 19,400 Humvees operating in the Iraq theater. Of those, about 5,900 were armored at the factory and armor was added to about 9,100 of them later.
Other vehicles also lack armor. The House Armed Services Committee released statistics yesterday showing that most transport trucks crisscrossing Iraq to supply the troops don’t have armor. Only 10 percent of the 4,814 medium-weight transport trucks have armor, and only 15 percent of the 4,314 heavy transport vehicles do.
The Humvee name comes from the pronunciation of the abbreviation of its prosaic military title: High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle — HMMWV.
Woodward said AM General — a descendant of American Motors that once built Rambler automobiles — has added workers and increased overtime to meet demand.
The number of large Hummers, which share part of the assembly line with Humvees, has been reduced to a level that has no impact on Humvee production, Woodward said. The smaller Hummer SUV is built in a separate building, he added.
Woodward would not detail AM General’s current monthly Humvee production figures.
The Humvees to be factory-armored by O’Gara-Hess have some different specifications than the models shipped without armor, Woodward said. So increasing production requires careful planning.
“It’s not like making a Big Mac,” he said. “There are so many configurations. … You can’t just whip them through like a big grill in a McDonald’s.”
Besides having increased the number of Humvees it is receiving, the military is also shifting armored ones to Iraq from other areas, including the United States and the Balkans. An Army fact sheet said 282 factory-armored Humvees are on ships headed to Iraq.
And 10 sites have been established, two in Kuwait and eight in Iraq, where armor is added to Humvees, Lt. Gen. Steven Whitcomb told Pentagon reporters yesterday in a teleconference from Kuwait. According to the Army information, 9,134 of 9,386 add-on armor kits in the Iraq theater have been installed.
Whitcomb said the factory-installed armor provides protection that he described as “a bubble.” Add-on armor does not protect the Humvee’s top and bottom, he added.
In Iraq, the need for more armored Humvees came to the fore in August 2003 when insurgents changed tactics and started using roadside bombs, Whitcomb said.
“What we also can’t lose sight of is that the Humvee was a vehicle that was not designed to afford armor protection, nor were most of our trucks, he said. “The only (factory-armored) Humvees — the high-end ones — we had were for our military police forces.”
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