Thursday, February 05, 2004
US troops keep Iraq peace with DIY armour
Telegraph:The United States army has decided that small town reserve units across America can fit homemade armour-plating to their vehicles before heading to Iraq.
Army chiefs prompted outrage when they ordered a number of reserve units to remove steel plating lovingly bolted to their vehicles as they prepared to ship out. The top brass said it was untested and unapproved.
The armour plating has been designed to fit over the thin metal floorboards and canvas doors of the existing vehicles.
It was fitted by troops and their families, with the help of local businessmen and town councils, friendly mechanics and - in the case of one Alabama National Guard signals company - high-school engineering students.
The army has increased production of armoured Humvee vehicles and bolt-on armour kits but approved kits, which cost about £30,000 each, will not be sent to all units before summer 2005.
The weekend warriors of the 428th Transportation Company of the army reserve, based in Jefferson City, Missouri, were not prepared to wait that long when, just days before they were due to deploy to Iraq, they heard that the jeep-like vehicles were vulnerable to roadside bombs.
Virgil Kirkweg, whose sheet-metal factory built armour for 50 vehicles from the unit, said: "Some military police friends of theirs said they were being hit by roadside bombs - people were losing arms and legs, getting killed."
Mr Kirkweg's son-in-law, who is serving in Iraq, sent pictures of crude armour his unit had tried to make in the field after scavenging parts from a Baghdad scrap heap.
Mr Kirkweg's armour costs less than £300 per vehicle and takes three days to make.
"We're not saying it's picture perfect but it's substantially better than going out with nothing," he said after testing the steel plating by shooting at it with a hunting rifle.
But the Missouri reservists were told not to fit the armour until it was officially tested.
A signals unit from Foley, a small town in Alabama, fared even worse. The state's National Guard commanders ordered it to remove its home-made armour and banned all such alterations.
The order caused a storm of protest from soldiers, their families and neighbours.
A Missouri congressman, Ike Skelton, who is the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives armed services committee, lobbied the secretary of the army to allow the 428th Transportation Company to take its armour to Iraq.
But this week, the army sent a message to all units, offering guidance on how to make homemade armour.
Major Gary Tallman, a spokesman for army weaponry at the Pentagon, stressed that his commanders had never actually banned improvised armour, but said: "A perception got out that the answer was no. We've now sent out a formal message saying, 'If you're going to do this, here's how to do it right'."
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