WASHINGTON – The Army is planning to spend $84 million to armor hundreds of older troop carriers for service in Iraq.
The Navy and Air Force have offered to send mechanics to Kuwait to assist in welding armor to vehicles already awaiting protection, officials said.
Armoring vehicles to protect soldiers in Iraq has received new attention since a soldier in Kuwait questioned Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about the armor on his unit’s vehicles last month. Rumsfeld himself came under fire for not doing more to ensure all the trucks and Humvees in Iraq were armored against the threat of ambushes and roadside bombs.
Under the Army’s plan, some 734 troop carriers – of a vintage design first fielded in 1960 – would receive heavy armor to protect them from rocket-propelled grenades, mines and other heavy weapons, said Nancy Ray, an Army spokeswoman at the Pentagon.
Many of the carriers are M113s, which resemble a box on treads, and a smaller number are a mobile command post variant of that lightly armored design. The vehicles are already in Iraq and Kuwait, Ray said, and the new armor will be applied in Kuwait.
Once armored, they would primarily see duty in security roles that don’t require a lot of speed; the M113 is simply too slow to keep up with convoys, officials said. The M113, which saw heavy action during the Vietnam War, usually carries a heavy machine gun on top.
In a statement, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, hailed the plan.
“These additional vehicles will provide much needed protection while we await the delivery of more modern up-armored Humvees,” he said. “Nearly two years into the war, it has become imperative that we seek alternate solutions to provide the mobile protection our soldiers need, and I applaud the Army for putting the safety of our servicemen and women first.”
Events this week, however, showed that some of the heaviest armor in the U.S. inventory is not immune to insurgent attacks. A large bomb destroyed a Bradley Fighting Vehicle on Thursday, killing seven U.S. soldiers.
Soldiers in Kuwait are already adding armor to existing Humvees and trucks, at a rate of about 35 a week, said Lt. Col. Virginia Ezell, a spokeswoman for Army Materiel Command. The Navy and Air Force have offered to send mechanics and welders to Kuwait to speed the process, she said Friday.
She had no information on how many from each service might go, or from where they might be drawn.
A spokesman for the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia said a small group from the base was going to Texas to assist in fabricating armoring kits, but he knew of no plans to send personnel to Kuwait or Iraq.