After the collapse of Saddam Hussein's army in 2003 Iraqi insurgents were quick to realise that the Achilles heel of US-led coalition forces is the ten of thousands of soft-skin combat service support vehicles necessary to bring essential items into Iraq for distribution to forward-deployed units. Improvised explosive devices, usually built using artillery shells or land mines, are the weapons-of-choice for insurgents, as they can be detonated independently or used to initiate an ambush by insurgents armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.
The United States, other Nato nations and their allies had developed add-on armour kits to protect soft-skin vehicles deployed on peace support operations in Former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, but these were acquired in comparatively small numbers. As casualties to troops and vehicles mounted in Iraq, the US Department of Defense launched a crash programme to provide armour protection kits and a self-defence capability for the soft-skin tactical wheeled vehicles in Iraq. Only 10% of the medium tactical wheeled vehicles and about 15% of the heavy variety in Iraq had armour protection fitted in December 2004. Officials subsequently made a commitment that no vehicles would leave base areas without armour fitted. Armour solutions were improvised in theatre, as manufacturers increased production of existing armour kits and developed new designs for vehicles that previously had not been fitted with armour. The Central Command operates four armour installation sites in Iraq in addition to facilities in Kuwait. Dispersing the sites reduces the expense and time of moving vehicles to a central location. By late 2006 only one of these was manned entirely by military teams, with civilian contractors operating at the other sites alongside military personnel. Armour installation is a four-step process that begins with stripping areas of the vehicle, then adding heat and air conditioning, reinforcing the frame and finally installing the armour. Besides trucks and Humvees, kits have also been developed for engineering equipment such as bulldozers, rollers and graders.
The fitting of add-on armour has significant cost implications beyond initial acquisition and installation. The weight of armour reduces a vehicle's load capacity, thus requiring either more vehicles in theatre or more trips to be made. With armour fitted the Humvees, the lightest member of the tactical wheeled vehicle fleet, is no longer able to carry the standard shelter, which must now be mounted on a trailer or carried by a larger vehicle. As a rule, militaries operate fleets that combine militarised versions of commercial trucks and purpose-built military designs; it is generally much more difficult to fit add-on armour to commercial designs than to military designs. The additional weight also exacerbates the increased operational tempo, which is significantly reducing the life expectancy of the American fleet. The combined costs of up-armouring, rebuilding (Reset), upgrading (Recap) and the acquisition of new vehicles has resulted in the Department of Defense increasing its expenditure on tactical wheeled vehicles from an average of about $ one billion annually from between 2000 and 2004 to about $ three billion in subsequent years.
The US Army is placing priority on five key areas in new designs: mobility, fuel efficiency, electronics (such as drive vision and movement tracking systems), cargo handling and crew survivability. The Long-Term Armor Strategy requires that every new vehicle be 'fitted for but not with'...