Friday, March 26, 2004

Update: Promised Personal Body Armor Finally in Production

Retired Colonel David Hackworth, Defense Watch Senior Military Columnist, reports that, a year later, the Army is just now starting to provide enough personal body armor to deploying troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. This morning, local news reports in Portland, Oregon are carrying a story that a father just spent more than $1,400 to outfit his son on the way to the Middle East. It's bad enough when the politicians don't get it right. When senior military officials don't act until moms and pops scream to their Congressional reps for a year, that's inexcusable.

Last year, Les Brownlee, the Army's top guy (Secretary of the Army) and one of my very fine captains way back when, stated that all troops in Iraq would have the latest individual body armor (IBA) by Christmas. Three months after this declaration to Congress, there were still soldiers in Iraq without the lifesaving vests - some of whom might have suffered death or wounds as a result.

How could Secretary Brownlee make such a bad call?


For starters, the Pentagon's top brass always focus on big-ticket toys like the irrelevant F-22 fighter, the crash-and-burn Osprey helicopter, the redundant Joint Strike Fighter and the dubious Stryker combat vehicle.

The other reason for the vest shortfall is standard senior brass stupidity. Two years before our troops waded into Iraq, those who planned the campaign and their top logisticians set the IBA production rate at a number based on vests for the "dismounted fighting soldier" and "combat vehicle crewman" - a mere 1,600 units per month. By jump-off time, the production requirement shot up to 19,000 sets per month - too little, too late - to provide all divisional and separate regimental-level combat units with IBA.

The flawed conventional-war thinking must have been that the Pentagon's $400- billion-a-year "shock and awe" machine would so flatten Saddam's $1 billion-a-year ragtag army that the guerrilla war predicted by many military analysts wouldn't happen. Because the tens of thousands of supporters providing the beans, bullets, medicine and maintenance wouldn't be in harm's way under this scenario, they wouldn't need the new 16-pound vest that protects against fragmentation splinters and up to a .30-caliber armor-piecing rifle round.

The Army's leadership owes a one-on-one apology to the families of the dead and the hundreds of support and service troops awarded Purple Hearts as a result of this criminal negligence. Not to mention the reimbursement that should be offered to everyone who purchased a vest for a serving loved one.

Last week, Maj. Gary Tallman, the Pentagon's point man on IBA, told me, "The Army has allocated $420 million and assigned top priority to ensuring that every soldier in Afghanistan and Iraq or who will be heading that way has one of the new vests."

Seven production lines, from Costa Mesa, Calif., to Pittsfield, Mass., are busy churning out 25,000 IBA sets - the vest and accompanying ballistic plates - per month. A year after the war started, production is finally meeting demand. Talk about ready, fire, aim on the part of the planners.

My guess is that the Pentagon brass pushed the pedal to the metal on IBA production because Congress, moms, pops and the media have been on their tails since this shameful shortfall came to light.

Posted by a Vet -- -- permanent link