WASHINGTON --- Some Reserve and National Guard units alerted for deployment started putting steel plates on their Humvees and trucks in late fall after getting e-mails from friends already in Iraq recommending additional protection for soft-skin vehicles -- in some cases, getting help from their local civilian communities in doing so.
Adding additional layers of protection to vehicles is nothing new to the Army, but officials advise checking to ensure local modifications meet the force protection requirements intended.
“What we want to avoid is having Soldiers adding ad-hoc armor to their vehicles and giving themselves a false sense of security,” said Maj. Gen. N. Ross Thompson III, commanding general for the Army’s Tank-automotive and Armaments Command. “Not every type of steel affords the type of protection needed against a (rocket propelled grenade) or (improvised explosive device) attack.
“If you want to put ad-hoc armor on your vehicles -- before you do anything -- check with Army Materiel Command and the product manager to see what the requirement is and if we cannot get you all you need to add that additional protection. We have a lot of very knowledgeable people who understand exactly what you need.”
Appendix O, Vehicle Hardening, to Field Manual 55-30, Army Motor Transport Units and Operations, provides general guidance to unit commanders on how to harden vehicles against the threat of mines on, above or along side of roads traveled by military vehicles, as well as other types of ambushes.
Using sandbags is a good way to harden vehicles against the mines and small arms fire, according to the appendix, as they are usually available and can be easily added or removed as the situation dictates.
The appendix also briefly discusses using ¼- to ½-inch of hardened armor plates on vehicle doors and the fuel tank.
Whatever method is used in hardening vehicles, FM 55-30 warns of potential consequences: more required maintenance as the additional weight will likely mean early structure and mechanical failures, and reduction in the amount of cargo the vehicle can safely carry.
There are two other things drivers need to consider that are not covered by the manual, according to an Army spokesman -- the weight of sandbags or ad-hoc armor means drivers will need more time to brake due to the increased weight; and the added material could possibly change the vehicle’s center of gravity, increasing the risk of vehicle rollover.
“It would be unfortunate if Soldiers hardened their vehicle against the effects of a RPG or IED attack and then were injured or killed in an accident due to the changed characteristics of that hardened vehicle,” the spokesman said.
During the Vietnam War, the Army developed and used add-on armor kits on ¼-, 2 ½ - and 5-ton trucks. Following the war, the kits were dropped from the Army inventory.
TACOM and the Army Research Laboratory developed an Armor Survivability Kit to add more protection against RPG and IED attacks for standard Humvees operating in Iraq this past fall. As of Feb. 5, more than 1,000 ASKs have been sent to Central Command against a requirement of 5,000.
The Army sent a message to the field in January that provided specific guidance on using ad-hoc armor. It addressed thickness of armor that should be considered, types of steel that might be used, and contact information for steel vendors. The message also contained contact information for Army vehicle product managers that units could call for ad-hoc armor configurations on the Army’s various wheeled vehicles.