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U.S. left weapons in place after last Gulf War, but many outmoded

CAMP NEW YORK, Kuwait—Many of the soldiers who fought here in the 1991 Persian Gulf War always figured that they would have to return some day.

But few of those who arrived here recently with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division expected they'd have to use so much of the equipment they left behind.

"It's unbelievable," said Maj. Kent Rideout, executive officer for Task Force 4-64 Armor. "Some of the trucks I drew out of pre-positioned stocks when we arrived are the same stuff I turned in back in ྗ."

As the buildup for a possible war with Iraq continues, veteran soldiers such as Rideout are preparing for battle with much of the same weaponry and equipment they used to defeat Iraq 12 years ago. Because of the information revolution and other advances in battlefield technology, weapons that once were state of the art are now relics.

"Quite honestly, some things have gotten better," said Rideout, 39, of San Antonio, Texas, who fought with the 1st Armored Division in Desert Storm. "But from a vehicle standpoint, I have less capable vehicles now than what I had then."

That's because much of what the 3rd Infantry will use in battle was left here after the 1991 war. Because Iraq remained a threat, the United States left enough tanks, armored vehicles, self-propelled artillery, cargo trucks and other hardware in Kuwait, Qatar and the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia to outfit about two mechanized Army divisions, plus substantial ship-based supplies for the Marine Corps.

But while new M1A2 Abrams tanks and upgraded versions of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle—both with fully digitized targeting systems—and other new weapons were deployed back home, much of the equipment in overseas warehouses and ships has grown old.

Some units, such as the 4th Infantry Division, which has served as a test division for many of the Army's technological improvements, are en route to the region with the latest weapons and hardware, but others will have to make do with the pre-positioned stocks.

"There have been a lot of changes in tank technology, but we don't have it here," said Capt. Scott Thomson, 33, a task force maintenance officer from Atlanta.

Some new equipment is on the way.

The 3rd Division's 1st Brigade has brought some of its new tanks and equipment from its home at Fort Stewart, Ga. And some replacement vehicles, such as Humvees with armor that can withstand hits by 7.62 mm machine-gun fire, are also on the way.

But the pace of the buildup and demands on shipping mean that some of the best equipment was left behind.

That includes many new LMTV (Light-Medium Tactical Vehicle) and HMMT (Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck) cargo trucks, transports and wreckers designed to replace vehicles that were already relics 12 years ago.

During Desert Storm, many 2.5 ton "deuce and a half" trucks, which date back to World War II, got stuck in the sand or broke down. But those vehicles, along with numerous 5-ton models, will likely see plenty of use in any new hostilities. Others include the Vietnam-era M-88 recovery vehicle, originally designed to haul the M-60 tank, not the M1 Abrams.

"They're designed to pull a 60-ton vehicle, and we've got them pulling 70-ton vehicles," said Thomson.

Eleven vehicles in his unit alone were left behind on the battlefield during the first two hours of the ground war in 1991, Rideout said. To avoid that experience, his troops recently put 800 miles on their vehicles during one three-week span—more than they would drive in a year back home—trying to work out the kinks while they still have time.

But just in case, the task force's mechanics have ensured that every one of their vehicles is outfitted with a winch, tow cable and other gear.

The troops are also working to avoid other logistics problems. The 1st Armored Division ran out of gas on its first day of battle in 1991 because its fuel trucks could not keep up with the fast-moving Abrams tanks, which can maintain speeds of 30 mph on the battlefield. With supply lines expected to stretch for hundreds of miles—Baghdad lies more than 400 miles north of the border with Kuwait—senior officers anticipate working "battle pauses" into potential war plans for refueling and other support.

Even with the obstacles they face, veteran soldiers say they feel better prepared for war than they were 12 years ago. They also know that the Iraqi army they routed in 1991 is in a lot worse shape because of international sanctions in place for the last 12 years.

Experts believe that Iraq lost about 40 percent of its heavy weapons and aircraft during Desert Storm. Though its armed forces are still estimated to have 375,000 men, 2,200 tanks, 3,700 other armored vehicles and more than 300 combat aircraft, most soldiers are considered ill-trained. Many weapons are inoperable because of insufficient spare parts and repairs.

"They were overmatched 12 years ago," Rideout said. "For us, it's a lot of the same issues as we had then. Logistics will be a major problem. But from a tactical standpoint, we are going to kick some major butt."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): IRAQ-BATTLEWOES.