- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 11, 2004

On March 28, I ran a Sunday Forum piece in The Washington Times titled, “Sealing a chink in the armor.” It called attention to the fact the supply of armored Humvees, sometimes referred to as “up-armored” vehicles, continued to be a significant problem. Readers may recall I mentioned the arrival ceremony in Kuwait for a Japanese ship carrying vehicles and supplies for Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces (SDF) deployed in Iraq including armored jeeps built by Komatsu.

At the time, I was scratching my head, wondering about what prevents the Pentagon from broadening its supply line to include other, readily available, armored vehicles.

So, here we are more than six months later, and Mr. Rumsfeld is finally getting the message. Or is he? The availability of armored vehicles is an even bigger issue today in Iraq as our commanders in the field are apparently calling for a rapid 50 percent increase in armored vehicles.

Why are alternatives like the Komatsu vehicle still off the screen at this point? The word from a Japanese military source is that the GSDF plans to have about 400 of these 4 ton Komatsu vehicles on hand by March 2005.

While some might point to the legal barriers in Japan that prevent or hinder the export of Japanese military equipment, a creative way to work around this obstacle should be pursued quickly. Komatsu is not the only alternative, but it may be the best available. I have not seen U.S. soldiers driving the Mercedes armored jeep either.

If the U.S. military can jointly build F-15’s with the Japanese, why can’t we deploy dozens of these Komatsu vehicles quickly in Iraq? Each can carry four soldiers at a maximum speed of 60 mph for more than 200 miles without refueling.

The Pentagon is well aware of this vehicle. Whether it performs just as well as an up-armored Humvee under similar hostile fire is really no longer the issue given we have been bombarded with photos of U.S. troops taking such stopgap measures as lashing sandbags to plywood so they can be mounted as a form of crude supplemental armor on their vehicles prior to the assault on Fallujah. Besides, we do not have the luxury of taking time to arrange for some sort of side-by-side comparison at this point anyway.

One thing that immediately stands out about the Komatsu is that the front and side windows appear far smaller than the Humvee, even the up-armored version. Interestingly, in a ABC TV newscast on Dec. 8 about the attempts of our troops in Iraq to solve the problem by installing what they call “Hillbilly armor,” the troops interviewed pointed to the large side and front windows as one of the glaring vulnerabilities of the Humvee that they often cover up almost completely with steel sheets. The ABC reporter actually showed viewers a Humvee with a reinforced, now windowless door that had been hit by a rocket propelled grenade. Because the window was covered over, and only because this armor was added on site in Iraq by our troops, the driver survived.

As I said last March, Komatsu may not be the only viable alternative provider for these vehicles on the list, but something needs to be done quickly about the limited supply of small armored vehicles in Iraq. I do not believe American taxpayers who have embraced Japanese SUVs with great enthusiasm care where the armored vehicles come from so long as they get the job done and carry family members and friends on duty in Iraq in and out of harm’s way safely.

So, will someone at the Pentagon call Komatsu before it is too late?

Peter J. Brown is a freelance writer from Mount Desert, Maine.

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