Army will rely on older personnel carriers after upgrading armor

WASHINGTON—The Army, beset with complaints that its troops are going into combat in inadequately armored Humvees, will send an older and less used class of armored personnel carriers to Iraq after spending $84 million to add armor to them.

These vehicles, both veteran warhorses, are the M113/A3 armored personnel carrier and the M577 command post carrier. Both will be tougher and safer than newly armored Humvees.

Army officials who pushed hard over the last two years for getting the M113 into duty in Iraq said it was more useful, cheaper and easier to transport than the Army's new wheeled Stryker armored vehicle, which also is in use in Iraq.

The Army and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld found themselves at the center of a firestorm last month over the pace of adding armor to the Humvee, a small transport vehicle that's been pressed into service in Iraq as a combat vehicle. Critics have charged that even with armor the Humvee is too easily destroyed by rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices.

An Army representative, who didn't want to be identified, said Monday that $84 million was being spent to add armor to 734 M113/A3s and M577s.

For the M113s, that includes hardened steel side armor, a "slat armor" cage that bolts to the side armor and protects against RPGs, anti-mine armor on the bottom and a new transparent, bulletproof gun shield on the top that vastly improves gunners' vision.

The M577, nicknamed the "high-top shoe" for its tall, ungainly silhouette, will get only slat armor and anti-mine armor. Its high sides can't take the steel armor without making the vehicle unstable and even more liable to roll over.

The slat-type armor essentially is a metal cage designed to detonate RPGs before they breach the steel armor and the light aluminum wall. Similar slat armor has been added to the Stryker vehicle.

The armor kits will be produced in the United States, the Army representative said, and installed in Kuwait.

The representative said the M113 upgrade was requested by Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, the ground commander in Iraq, and approved by Gen. George Casey, the commander of multinational forces in Iraq.

The M113 typically carries a driver, a commander and 11 infantry soldiers. It can be fitted with a .50-caliber machine gun or a MK19 40 mm grenade launcher. The M113/A3 version, introduced in 1987, has a bigger turbo-charged diesel engine, an improved transmission, steering and braking package, and inside liners to suppress spall, the superheated molten metal produced by RPG and tank-round hits. It has a range of 300 miles and a road speed of more than 40 mph. It also can swim.

More than 80,000 M113s in 28 configurations have been manufactured since they were introduced in 1960, and they still do yeoman duty in many of the world's armies.

At around 13 tons, the M113 is much easier to transport than the behemoth M1A2 Abrams tank, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle or even the wheeled Stryker.

The Army has spent hundreds of millions of dollars buying armored Humvees at $150,000 each and buying and making special tempered-steel and bulletproof-glass kits to add armor protection to the thin-skinned variety. The demand for armor on the Humvees grew as insurgents began pouring RPGs onto American patrols and convoys, and detonating deadly homemade bombs in the late summer of 2003.

The current demand in Iraq is for more than 22,000 armor-protected Humvees, a goal the Army says it will meet sometime between now and March. Its prime focus has turned now to armoring the five models of trucks that travel Iraq's dangerous roads to supply American forces.

Rumsfeld recently told a Tennessee National Guard soldier, who asked why his outfit had to scavenge dumps in Kuwait for scraps of armor for their Humvees, that "you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might like to have."

One serving officer, who asked not to be identified, said Rumsfeld "didn't even let us go to war with the Army we had; he made us leave half our armored vehicles at home in pursuit of lighter, faster and cheaper."