The United States military is the most technologically advanced, most lethal, and most mobile armed force in the history of human civilization. The world, quite simply, has never seen anything like it. Able to deploy tens of thousands of troops and their mountains of equipment and support personnel by sea and air to the most distant parts of the globe in a matter of weeks, the US Armed Forces have no equal anywhere on earth.
Then why, more than two years after the War in Iraq broke out, don’t our men and women have properly armed humvees to protect them from the Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s) that have taken so many of their lives and caused many, many more to suffer horrible, disfiguring wounds?
If I were the parent of a child in Iraq I would be absolutely livid. And if I were the parent of a child killed because of this unconscionable and negligent set of circumstances, I would be homicidal.
The fact is, the Pentagon is lying through its teeth if this report in the New York Times is to be believed. And given the fact that back in the 1980’s I became generally familiar with the Pentagon procurement bureaucracy and recognize the snafus and delays described in the article, I can tell you that there’s about a 100% chance that the New York Times has hit the nail on the head.
Pentagon procurement is where the best and worst of American democracy, American capitalism, American PR, and American bureaucracy come together in a perfect storm of greed, nobility, pettiness, and inertia, the result of which is blundering chaos and crony capitalism at its worst. The procurement process is not specifically set up to protect taxpayer money, promote competitive bidding for contracts, or even make the United States safer. The number one goal of the process is to keep both procurement officials and companies that deal with the military from getting rich through graft and corruption, the opportunities for both being great.
In fact, looking at procurement policies of Third World nations, one can see why the Pentagon works so hard to prevent corruption. It’s estimated that nearly one quarter of all monies spent on weapons and weapons systems in Africa is the result of kickbacks to government officials or some other kind of corruption.
While the concern over corruption is admirable, the result is often ludicrous. Cost overruns, delays, unnecessary expenditures, and equipment that doesn’t perform as advertised are just a few of the problems associated with our current procurement system.
But that doesn’t begin to explain this:
Yet more than two years into the war, efforts by United States military units to obtain large numbers of these stronger vehicles for soldiers have faltered – even as the Pentagon’s program to armor Humvees continues to be plagued by delays, an examination by The New York Times has found.
Many of the problems stem from a 40-year-old procurement system that stymies the acquisition of new equipment quickly enough to adapt to the changing demands of a modern insurgency, interviews and records show.
The Pentagon has repeatedly said no vehicle leaves camp without armor. But according to military records and interviews with officials, about half of the Army’s 20,000 Humvees have improvised shielding that typically leaves the underside unprotected, while only one in six Humvees used by the Marines is armored at the highest level of protection.
The Defense Department continues to rely on just one small company in Ohio to armor Humvees. And the company, O’Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt, has waged an aggressive campaign to hold onto its exclusive deal even as soaring rush orders from Iraq have been plagued by delays. The Marine Corps, for example, is still awaiting the 498 armored Humvees it sought last fall, officials told The Times.
O’Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt doesn’t want to lose its “current and future competitive position.” In other words, at the expense of the safety of our men and women, they want to maintain their monopolistic hold on armoring humvees so that they can make more money. In essence, they are profiting from the deaths of our young people in Iraq.
Are you mad yet?
How about this. Suppose you wanted to build an armored vehicle. You’d probably want to incorporate the armor into the design for the vehicle and then add the armor to the chassis as you used old Henry Ford’s assembly method to move the vehicle down the line, right?
The Humvee chassis is rapidly made on a vast assembly line near South Bend, Ind., by AM General. But before its vehicles can be rushed to Iraq, they are trucked four and a half hours to O’Gara’s shop in Fairfield, in southern Ohio – which had 94 people armoring one Humvee a day when the war began. There, the Humvees are partly dismantled so the armor can be added.
“Clearly, if you could have started from scratch you wouldn’t be doing it that way,” Mr. Brownlee [Les Brownlee, former Army Secretary] said in a recent interview.
That’s right. They build the vehicle first and then add the armor.
Are you getting madder?
But that’s not all. This is what happened when the Pentagon tried to get more contractors involved in armoring the humvees:
In February 2004, Mr. Brownlee visited the O’Gara plant and asked the company to increase production, gradually pushing its monthly output to 450 from 220 vehicles. The Defense Department also wanted to contract with other companies to make armor.
Determined to hold onto its exclusive contract, O’Gara began lobbying Capitol Hill. Among those it drew to its side was Brian T. Hart, an outspoken father of a soldier who was killed in October 2003 while riding in a Humvee. Early last year, as a guest on a national radio show, Mr. Hart urged the Pentagon to involve more armor makers. Two weeks later a lobbyist for O’Gara approached him.
“He informed me that the company had more than enough capacity,” Mr. Hart says. “There was no need to second-source.”
Mr. Hart then redirected his efforts to help the company push Congress into forcing the Pentagon to buy more armored Humvees. With support from both parties, the company has received more than $1 billion in the past 18 months in military armoring contracts.
First of all, please note the date of February, 2004. This is when the army first approached the contractor to start armoring more humvees. That’s more than 6 months after it became clear that the massive amount of ordinance in Iraq was going to result in the terrorists reliance on IED’s as their weapon of choice.
Why so long? Poor planning is the simple answer:
The Defense Department had assumed that armored Humvees wouldn’t be needed once the invasion of Iraq was over. Original plans called for the Pentagon to pull back most tanks and other armored vehicles to reduce the U.S. military profile as soon as Baghdad fell, because strategists had projected that Iraq would quickly become peaceful. But violent attacks by insurgents, never anticipated by the Pentagon, meant that troops traveling in unarmored Humvees faced grave risks.
How mad are you now?
Something’s got to be done to light a fire under these procurement bureaucrats so that our men and women can get the protection they deserve. Only the Secretary of Defense Mr. Rumsfeld can do that. And given that he’s been part of this “Don’t Panic. All is well” cabal that’s continually said everything possible is being done to armor up the humvees, perhaps its time once again for Rummy to offer his resignation. His credibility, already on shaky ground because of the abuse and torture scandals, has just taken another hit in my mind. And as I’ve done several times, I’d urge him to resign immediately.
This won’t fix the problem. Only a crash program involving both contractors and government will even begin to address the issue. And it’s also time for a little truth telling on the matter. The parents and loved ones of our men and women who are over in Iraq in vehicles that either aren’t armored or have makeshift protection gleaned from scrap metal piles and garbage dumps deserve it.
It’s time to get behind our troops and support them to the fullest. And the best way we can do that at this moment is skewer the Pentagon for their outrageous conduct during this entire affair.
One note: Hats off to our friends on the left who’ve been screaming about this for months. Although I suspect their motives were not so pure in that they were using the issue to embarass the Bush Administration, they were out front and on the side of the angels when it came to this issue.