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Here at Winds, I've talked about my anger that Hummers are still the main patrol vehicle in Iraq for US troops with no replacement in sight, and also noted that many Iraqi soldiers are driving around in unarmored civilian pickups. These guys are putting everything on the line to give their country a better future, and their casualty rates (not to mention lineups to volunteer) prove it.
So I'm happy to report that the Iraqi army is improving its standard rides in a number of areas... and in one area at least, they're showing themselves to be smarter than the Americans.
DID has covered Iraq's 9th Army Division (Mechanized), which has done wonders refurbishing some older Iraqi tanks. Gen. Bashar and his veteran troops are working with familiar equipment, and are putting it to good use. They've also received a set of donated and refurbished T-72 tanks and BMP armored personnel carriers from Hungary and Greece, respectively.
More recently, Iraq bought bought about $31 million worth of up-armored Hummers, which gets them 200-300. Hardly ideal, yes it's an IED blast trap, but they're definitely way better than pickups and will stop small arms fire. That's a plus, too.
Now, there's a huge and very important area between tanks (heavy-duty firepower and protection, hard on roads, little visibility, mobile locally but a pain to move beyond that, saved for major things), and Hummers (very mobile, high visibility, much more vulnerable especially to IEDs, not an ideal firepower platform). It's especially important to the Iraqis, because that's really where their major vehicle needs live. They need something for urban patrol - very mobile and can be shifted around easily, easy on roads, with firepower equal to or slightly better than the Hummers, good visibility so the locals see you and vice-versa, and good protection against both small arms fire and IED land mines.
As I've noted here before, there are a few options if that's what you're after. As it happens, the Iraqis just chose - and they chose very well.
First, they chose well by doing a major buy of $445.4 million for 1,050 Iraqi Light Armored Vehicles (ILAVS) if all options are exercised. Deliveries could continue until the end of November 2009, but they'll have the first 400 or so within a year. By creating an order this big, they ensure that the vehicles they need can be deployed in numbers that might make a difference in key areas. They've also had the side effect of increasing the production capacity for their chosen vehicle in the USA. Which will help the US, who needs more of them.
Second, they chose well by going for an option that mounts the Marine Corps Armored Turret System. Gunshields - very simple, basic concept, eliminates a bunch of very preventable casualties by providing protection from bullets and mine blasts. Follow the link, and note the transparent, bulletproof glass in the gunsheilds and turret that allows the person manning the heavy weapon to actually look around and remain aware while being protected. Over 3 years after entering Iraq, the US Marines have figured out that this is a good idea for patrol vehicles and are starting to install them. The US Army? Not on the ball yet.
Score another for the Iraqis, and the sharp folks on BAE's bid team who bundled it with their vehicle.
Third, the Iraqis chose well by selecting a variant of Force Protection Inc's v-hulled Cougar 4×4 that has earned such praise from US Marine Corps and Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams in Iraq. They correctly gathered that if it was good enough for anti-IED teams, it was also a good patrol vehicle for them. Which it is - gunshields, gun ports, v-hull, and all.
One fine day, the US Army and Marines might also clue in.
Finally, kudos to the defense firm who won the contract. BAE Systems already made a number of eligible armored vehicles, including fine v-hulled offerings like the RG-31s Canada is using in Afghanistan, and equally proven larger vehicles like the Casspir. But BAE looked at the specs, looked around at what was out there, swallowed their pride, and partnered up with Cougar-maker Force Protection Industries in South Carolina. That took a lot of balls on BAE's part, and their Anniston, AL and York, PA plants are now going to expand the Cougar's production base.
I'd have been equally happy with an Iraqi choice of Australia's Bushmaster, a slightly larger wheeled vehicle that has performed well in Iraq and shares many of the Cougar's positive traits. It would have been a great vehicle, and a nice plus for a real ally.
But the Cougar is a very fine choice with better visibility, and one that has earned more of a name for itself via high-stakes combat action. I can understand why the Iraqis chose it... and soon, they'll have better rides in theater than their American counterparts.
Good for them.