WASHINGTON -- The assembly lines are moving 24/7 to keep up with the demand for up-armored vehicles in Iraq and for conversion kits to add extra protection to vehicles already there.
Gary Motsek, director of support operations for the U.S. Army Materiel Command, said the effort to provide increased vehicle protection against grenades, improvised explosive devices and small-arms fire is progressing fast and furiously as demand continues to increase.
Nearly 5,100 up-armored Humvees have been delivered to Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq, with another 724 on ships bound for the theater, Motsek said.
There, the up-armored Humvees are being issued to units based on their missions - regardless whether they're Army or Marine Corps, or active or reserve component, Motsek emphasized.
"These factors have no bearing whatsoever on who's getting them," he said. "It's all based on the missions, and who has the greatest need for them," he said.
U.S. Central Command's current requirement for up-armored Humvees, one that has continued to increase, is for 8,105 up-armored Humvees in Iraq.
It's a number Motsek said was once considered almost unthinkable. At the beginning of the Iraqi war, the Army had only about 500 up-armored Humvees, called "UAHs," in its inventory. These were primarily used by military police units in their rear-protection role, he said.
No longer. Because they're easy to maneuver and just the right size for many of the missions being conducted in Iraq, Humvees have become "the platform of choice," Motsek said.
"If anyone would have told me a Humvee would be the platform of choice in a war, I would have told them they're crazy," he said.
Motsek said AM General, the company that builds the up-armored Humvees, has gone into around-the-clock production to churn out the vehicles as quickly as possible, but still is able to produce only several hundred a month.
"There's a perception that all you need to do is cut some carbon steel and slap it on the side of a vehicle," Motsek said. "That's simply not the case."
In addition to increased armor protection, up-armored Humvees feature more rugged suspension systems able to handle the added weight and ballistic-resistant glass. They also include air conditioners that enable crews to operate with the windows up, even in stifling temperatures.
Unwilling to leave deployed troops vulnerable while the production lines struggled to keep up with the demand, the Army came up with a second solution: add-on armor kits.
Not confident that commercial contractors could respond to the need quickly enough, Motsek said the Army ultimately designed and designed its own add-on armor kits in record time.
Engineers at the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Md., went to the drawing board to design the kits "over a weekend," he said. The Army field-tested them at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., to ensure they met strict ballistics protection standards.
Even as the field tests were taking place, the Army started ordering the special steel and bullet-resistant glass needed to build the vehicles, he said.
That calculation proved to be decisive in moving the effort forward with unprecedented speed. Within six weeks of putting pen to paper to come up with a design, Motsek said the Army had the first kits in hand, ready for shipment to Iraq.
In contrast, the normal procurement process takes five to seven years.
The Army also field tested prototype add-on armor kits from several contractors, Motsek said, ultimately settling on one produced by O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt.
Today, Army employees at four depots, two arsenals and an ammunition plant are working three shifts a day, producing the Army-designed kits to keep up with demand. Motsek said they've produced 8,800 add-on-armor kits, 8,700 of which have already been installed in vehicles in Iraq. O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt has provided 289 more kits, he said.
Yet despite the progress, Motsek said employees at production facilities keep their eye on the demand for more kits. The current requirement is for 13,872 kits.
During a recent visit to Letterkenny Army Depot, Pa., one facility producing the kits, Motsek said he was particularly impressed with the motivation of the workers he saw. One worker, who operated a laser-cutting machine that cuts the steel used in the kits, hadn't taken a single day off - not weekends, not holidays - since starting the job seven months earlier.
"No sir, I have a mission to do" was the employee's response, Motsek said.
In addition to Letterkenny, other Army facilities producing the kits are Anniston Army Depot, Ala.; Red River Army Depot, Texas; Sierra Army Depot, Calif.; Watervliet Arsenal, N.Y.; Rock Island Arsenal, Ill.; and Crane Ammunition Activity, Ind.
Fueling the motivation of workers at these facilities, Motsek said, are the testimonials they regularly receive from Iraq from troops who credit the kits with saving their lives. "That's a real motivator, when you hear soldiers telling stories about how they were able to survive because of their up-armored equipment," he said.
While the military moves double-time to up-armor its Humvees, it's also producing add-on armor kits for other vehicles in Iraq.
Motsek said the Army began anticipating this requirement even before U.S. Central Command passed it down, and laying the groundwork for a quick response.
So far, the Army has installed armor add-on kits on almost 400 Heavy Expanded Mobile Tactical Trucks, or HEMTTs, about 35 Palletized Load System tactical trucks and 450 vehicles from the Army's Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles, he said.
In addition, Motsek said the Army is in the process of buying the new Armored Support Vehicle, which he describes as a "mini Stryker vehicle" that's larger and has more armor protection than even the up-armored or enhanced Humvees.
The Army currently has 70 Armored Support Vehicles, all en route to Iraq, where they will support convoy movement, he said.
"For us, the bottom line is getting this equipment to the theater as quickly as possible," Motsek summarized. "When you're putting people in harm's way, you want to ensure that they have everything they need to protect them as they carry out their missions."