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Army, Congress In Step With Force Defense (Mar. 15)

WASHINGTON --- The Army continues to meet its Operation Iraqi Freedom force protection equipment requirements in a timely manner and Congress is helping to do that, the Army’s top leadership recently told some of the nation’s top lawmakers.

Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations – Defense to give testimony March 10 on the 2004 Army Posture Statement, the Army’s blueprint of what it wants to accomplish in the coming year with appropriated funds.

“Many of you have asked about measures we are taking to protect our forces in Iraq,” Brownlee said. “ The funds within the fiscal year 04 supplemental have sustained and supported our troops -- and have literally saved their lives. I know that our Soldiers and their families appreciate your unwavering support on these issues.”

That supplemental budget has allowed the Army purchase more up-armored Humvees so that there are now more than 2,000 within the OIF theater, compared to 500 last spring, Brownlee said.

Costing about twice of the normal $75,000 military Humvee production model, an up-armored Humvee has steel plate doors, ballistic-resistant windows and steel plating underneath the vehicle that offers better protection against bullets, rocket propelled grenades and improvised explosive devises. An up-armored version also weighs about 3,000 pounds more than the regular version.

OIF requirements for up-armored Humvees has changed at least seven times in the last six months, according to Army officials. CENTCOM has received 2,109 as of Feb. 20 against its latest critical requirement of 4,149. Brownlee testified that the Army is on track to deliver that critical requirement by October through industry ramping up to meet the demand and redistributing up-armored Humvees from other places in the Army.

“We have worked with industry to steadily increase production of these vehicles and will continue to do so -- going from 185 produced this month, up to 220 per month by May,” Brownlee said.

Brownlee visited several of the companies that produce up-armored Humvees late last month, talking with company executives and workers about the Army’s need for their product.

“They are committed to and capable of increasing production rates up to 450 per month to help us fill our requirement even faster,” Brownlee told the committee. “While this will require additional resources, we are working with the Army budget and with (the Office of the Secretary of Defense) so we can reach the theater’s requirements as quickly as possible.”

Achieving the 450-per-month production level will require about $550 million additional funding in FY04 and $150 million in FY05 to sustain that production through February 2005, said Army officials.

Though the OIF requirement is currently 4,419 up-armored Humvees, the Army plans to have 5,000 in theater by November. The Army objective is to have 12,334 up-armored Humvees Army-wide.

The Army has also been busy getting industry to ramp up production of the Interceptor Body Armor. As of January, the Army has met the OIF in-theater requirement for IBA. Production continues at 25,000 a month to field 840,000 against a total Army requirement.

“There are now sufficient stocks of IBA to equip every Soldier and (Department of Defense) civilian in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Brownlee said. “All Soldiers now rotating into theater will be issued a set of IBA either before they deploy to Iraq or immediately after arrival in Afghanistan.”

To Congressmen’s question as to why the Army did not have enough up-armored Humvees within CENTCOM last summer when insurgents started using improvised explosive devises, Schoomaker replied that the vehicle was designed for military police and scout use. “Nobody saw the UAH as the primary platform to fight from,” Schoomaker said.

Brownlee responded that the nature of the fight has evolved since the OIF has moved into stability operations. He added the Army faces an adaptive enemy who has a vote in how the Army needs to operate in Iraq.

The secretary also said the Army will use some of the funds from the requested termination of the Commanche helicopter program to improve force protection of its aviation fleet. Specifically all Chinook helicopters -- active, Guard and Reserve -- will be hard wired to accept the latest aviation force protection suite so it may be installed when needed.

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Brownlee: Changing Environment Increases Need For Force Protection Gear