The good news is that the new hummers are designed for rapid installation and removal of armor in the field, with minimal tools and support. This greatly simplifies logistics and upgrades, and allows the armor to be removed when it isn't needed so the Hummers will last a little longer (up-armored HMMWV suspensions die quickly due to all the extra weight).
The bad news is that despite the armor improvements, the HMMWV remains trapped in 1980s thinking. It was designed to make use of American auto-industry experience, and leverage civilian approaches. That's why Ah-nold now has a personal fleet to drive around town, and the decision did help lower costs. It's also why the HMMWV was built with a conventional flat bottom and frame.
The thing is, flat bottoms are mine-blast traps. It's possible to provide some protection, but the martial arts equivalent would be a style that requires you to catch the full force of every punch head-on.
Burning money, burning troops. It's beyond ridiculous - and there is a better way...
Other Options, Part I
The South Africans faced this issue a long time ago. They built vehicles like the Casspir truck et. al. with V-shaped steel hulls that deflect a mine blast to the sides. The mine may blow off the tires, but the occupants have a much better chance of surviving. Australia's similar-sized Bushmaster vehicles use this principle, as do many others nowadays like the German Krauss-Maffei Dingo and the British Iveco Panther. So do smaller vehicles like BAE OMC's RG-31 Nyala. For some vehicles, composite blast panels that can flex rather than breaking add to the protection.
The RG-31 is currently used by the US 101st Airborne, by EOD (explosive ordnance dispoal) and combat engineer units in the US Army and Marines, and by Canadian troops in Afghanistan. The US Army bought about 148 of them last February, at a cost of about $78 million. It's about a foot taller than the up-armored M1114 HMMWV, about two feet longer, and about as wide. It also weighs about 4,000 pounds more, at 16,500 pounds... and is much more likely to protect its occupants when it hits a land mine. The other difference is that 16,500 pounds is what an RG-31 Nyala is supposed to weigh. Which means you don't have to throw them away after a couple of years because the suspension et. al. is gone.
If it's good enough for the EOD folks, and has characteristics very similar to a Hummer, why the heck isn't it in general use when IED land mines remain the main threat in Iraq?
I do not understand why this vehicle, or another survivable solution, has not been priority-designated as the USA's Hummer-replacement designate for the Iraqi theater. No, scratch that. I do understand. I just think the reasons are bulls--t.
The Congressional delegations pushing manufacturing for vehicles and armor add-ons in their districts, even if it's something that won't really protect American troops properly. The bureaucratic mindset that sees "replace the Hummer" as some massive "US Army fleet for the next 30 years" infrastructure project, and so takes 5-10 years just to make a decision because every i must be dotted and every t crossed as some futuristic (and bet on it: very expensive) new vehicle is designed. Why, so you can field it after the conflict is over? What's needed is a priority war project that looks to implement an off-the-shelf alternative or set of alternatives NOW, for use as a vehicle pool in a designated theater. Any sign of that? No.
Sorry, that isn't good enough in wartime.
Procurement: Every Little Thing Takes a Little Time
Yes, I know that even wartime procurement takes time. For example, let's say the US military wanted to buy RG-31 Chargers (its name for them) in quantity, and was prepared to take initial deliveries from South Africa until manufacturing could transition to a US plant. The plant would have to staff up, training and quality levels take time to kick in, suppliers have to make expansions of their own, etc. It would probably be 12-18 months before they would start arriving in any serious quantity (or at least, the quantities America begins to consider 'serious') from South Africa, and about 2-3 years before you could hope to get really serious thousand-or-thousands per year rolling off the production lines established in the USA.
If we're going to offer serious criticism, we have to acknowledge this reality, and address what to do in the interim. Given the number of Hummers to substitute for, it's a multi-year interim of having at least some Hummers in service in Iraq and Afghanistan any way you slice it.
That's why I've been fairly accepting, until now, of the "up-armor the HMMWVs" situation. It was the logical expedient that would get some improved protection to the field fastest, so the largest possible number of troops could benefit.
But my patience for it is eroding. And my patience for it as a mainstay of the US response is zero.
Good News... Bad News
In fairness (and this is a scary thought), the Pentagon and all its well-chronicled procurement deficiencies is still a step up on most militaries. It has put some RG-31 vehicles in the field, as well as much bigger Cougar armored trucks (also with V-hulls) and the related Buffalo mine-removal vehicle, plus some M117 Guardian armored security vehicles. It has also done well in quickly iterating a fleet of small mine-disposal robots like the TALON, iRobot, MarcBOT IV, etc. Even the Brits look at these robots, and stuff like the Buffalo and its monster claw, and they're jealous of the USA's willingness and ability to get this kind of "shiny new kit" to their troops in just a couple of years.
Having said that, much more could and arguably should have been done. These are all fine ancillaries. But they are ancillaries. Sure, there's a major IED task force and lots of new side equipment. Yet even the experts acknowledge that there's no technical solution or set of solutions which will remove the threat. If IED land mines are going to be a feature of life, maybe the place to start is in making sure that the Army's main ride is designed to cope.
Indeed, the bad news for the Hummer is that even its theoretical justification has evaporated. The HMMWV was a "middle ground" idea that sort of made sense in its day, but its niche no longer exists. Let's review:
- See articles like Winds' "Jenin Is Our Future Too," with notes on the 'red force' trend in military exercises, and DID's reporting of Maj. Nadeau in "Urban Fight the New Baseline - Does FCS Need A Rethink?" Again and again, the US military says that the urban fight is the future of warfare.
- But too many of its tools are not built to survive there, even under counter-insurgency warfare conditions. The Hummer is one such.
- We also hear, again and again, of the "non-linear battlefield" (perhaps Jessica Lynch could tell us a thing or two).
- Yet the implications of that idea are not being addressed, except in piecemeal ways.
One of the implications is that "just getting around and doing work, particularly in quieter areas" is a role concept that becomes deeply questionable for a military vehicle. There may be places like the continental USA, bases in Europe, et. al. where one could either field something entirely civilian, like a Ford F150 or civilian SUV, or buy the old pre-Hummer jeeps for 1/4 to 1/20 the price. Beyond that, however, one needs a real military vehicle fit for the modern battlefield. In urban operations and situations where "the front lines" is a ridiculous concept, therefore, middle options like the HMMWV likewise become ridiculous - as well as expensive for their performance level, and dangerous to boot.
My sole comfort is that the other big potential user of HMMWVs is.... China (v1.0, yet).
As former Navy SEAL Chris Berman, creator of an urban patrol vehicle called "The Rock" puts it:
"...armoring Humvees is like trying to put a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. The spirit of it is fantastic. The application of it is ridiculous."
That's why I'm disappointed that other obvious 'fast-patch' options which would directly replace Hummers have been neglected. And I'm even more disappointed that the Army is still relying on Hummers as the main ride it's still buying in quantity, not just the main ride it's using.
There were options. There still are options.
Other Options, Part II
Could the USA have rewarded its Australian allies for their help, and bought even a "small" order of 250 larger, V-hulled Bushmasters (vs. 300 or so ordered by Australia for its entire army) for use instead of Hummers in higher-threat zones like Baghdad, on convoy duty from Kuwait, or in zones near Australian forces who have also been using it in Iraq? Yes, absolutely. Good diplomacy, good for the troops, offers an immediate improvement and a tryout opportunity for larger things. If it proves effective and competitive vs. other alternatives, order more. If something else becomes "the big standard" later, give them to the US Homeland Security department where they'll be very useful along the southern border.
Then there's Rhino Runner ultra-armored bus, which transported Donald Rumsfeld during a Baghdad visit in 2004. As this DID articles notes, the small firm who makes them, wouldn't give the Pentagon $500,000 worth of free buses to get shot up in testing with zero recompense and zero guarantee of future orders. Hence no approval. Some security contractors in Iraq are smart enough to use them.
Some M113 tracked armored personnel carriers are serving in Iraq, and have received pretty decent reviews - read this one. Those who use them don't want a Hummer instead. Now, the kicker: there are a couple thousand M113s currently sitting idle in US storage. For not very much money, you could add spall lining, floor armor, gun shields, slat armor "cages," then equip them with the same communications gear the new Hummers get. For rather more money (about $750,000 each), you could fit them with quiet hybrid drives (quiet is a big asset in urban combat), rubber band tracks that are quiet and will not damage roads while preserving off-road mobility, slat/reactive armor, gun shields, spall linings and floor armor, and upgraded communications, plus any other refurbishment needed.
Would these upgraded "M113A4" vehicles survive IED attacks as well as a Stryker? No, and that isn't the comparison I'd make. The Strykers have performed better than I expected in Iraq, and they have features even an upgraded M113 would lack. But Strykers cost $3.5 million each and are organized in totally new brigade formations, as integral "Styker Brigade Combat Teams." Great. What do you do for all the soldiers who aren't in one? "Give them Hummers" is the wrong answer.
Would upgraded M113s be a big improvement over the Hummers for other Army units, due to better mine resistance and RPG protection? Yes. Deliverable quickly, in numbers? Yes. Would they be better than the Marines' AA7 Amtracs amphibious tracked behicles? Yes, and having Marines use M113s in theater instead would save wear on the very old but uniquely amphibious Amtracs. Could the M113s be returned to the USA afterward, for use in future on the Mexican border or elsewhere? Yes. Could they be given to the Iraqis later, as a cheap and effective mechanized force nucleus at half the price of any comparable alternative? Yes.
Meanwhile, Cougar and RG-31 production could be ramped up, giving US forces durable, serious rides that would improve the force mix as they arrived in quantity about now. If, that is, the Pentagon had got off its butt on this early with a more serious plan.
The Bottom Line
Instead of that scenario, the US military has actively choked M113 use, favouring the Hummers - and doesn't seem to be moving with a lot of urgency on other fronts either. Cougars and RG-31, which have the potential to be mainstream transports in-theater, are bought in small quantities for EOD units. Evaluation of Hummer alternatives is not a priority. And over a billion dollars worth of throwaway new Hummers are headed off the production line. Wonderful.
Up-armored Hummers may be an improvement if you're the Iraqi Army, riding in unmodified pickups. They may be an improvement for other allies on the ground. They'll help you survive heavy small arms fire, or small IEDs, which is better than a Ford F150 or a basic Land Rover will do. Fine. Give the Iraqis or other allies the Hummers for their use, as American alternatives are fielded. But have a dammned alternative already.
I'm starting to move past disappointment to anger that the HMMWV is still seen as the mainstay wheeled ride for Iraq. US troops need and deserve a better ride, in numbers, that makes the "up-armored Hummer" the temporary - and partial - expedient that it always should have been.
Final point. I understand that shaped-charge devices sent in from Iran and larger IED land mines will blow a hole through any HMMWV-sized vehicle no matter what, and most larger ones as well. The Israelis have even lost a couple 60-ton Merkava-3 tanks to such tactics.
Nothing is foolproof.
But there is value in setting the bar higher, and offering more protection. Else why have protection at all? Especially when that protection is already on the market, and proven.
US policy and its defense procurement system have set the bar pretty low for their troops' primary ride in a war zone, and it's not looking like a field expedient any more. That's a decision that has cost lives, and will cost lives. It's a decision that needs to be reversed, and replaced with a serious plan to make the Hummer history in America's theaters of war.
My opinion, anyway. Use the comments section to offer yours...
- Monday Winds of War team member Jeff of Peace Like a River has also written quite a bit about this issue. Among other posts, he notes combat casualties since January 7, 2006, where Humvees were specified as being involved. How many of these were preventable with a better procurement focus and more survivable vehicles?
- Wash Park Prophet's The Humvee Problem is another fine recap and article. Adds a bit more history.
- Murdoc notes that the US military is looking at about 11 off the shelf vehicles as potential replacements, including most of the vehicles mentioned in my article. But Airborne Combat Engineer, who has been on this issue for a while, notes the key statement that sums up the problem with a quote: "Whether or not the Army decides there�s a requirement here is not determined at this point. And whether or not this goes into an acquisition process has not been determined." Can somebody please get their head out of their ass and determine it, since we're only 3 years into the battle for Iraq where IEDs are enemy #1?