- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

Coalition troops have their hands full in Iraq. In light of the large number of fast-moving and rapidly changing attacks on soldiers deployed there, efforts are under way to increase the availability of effective body armor for U.S. forces.

At the same time, however, the supply of armored Humvees, referred to as “up-armored” vehicles, continues to be a significant problem.

During recent testimony on Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that the Pentagon was scrambling to ensure that every armored Humvee in its existing inventory was in the theater, while requesting a substantial sum to field at least 180 additional vehicles. Each costs roughly $500,000, and the armor adds 3,000 pounds to the weight of the vehicle. The work is performed by a company in Ohio.

How quickly we can deliver these vehicles to our troops in Iraq is not the only question. Just as important is whether the Pentagon needs to broaden its supply line in this case and include other, readily available, armored vehicles.

Recently I was watching NHK, a major Japanese news service available on the Newsworld International satellite TV news channel, for possible coverage of the launch of a new Japanese satellite. It did not air. What did air was a news story about a dockside ceremony held upon the arrival in Kuwait of a Japanese ship carrying vehicles and supplies for Japanese Self-Defense Forces deployed in Iraq.

I was quite surprised to see a heavily armored Japanese jeep during the newscast. I believe this vehicle had not been seen on TV in North America prior to its appearance on the dock during this newscast. I wanted to know more about it. And so, after a few unsuccessful Web searches, I phoned the Japanese Embassy. Thanks to the rapid response from a staff member for the military attache, I learned the supplier of these vehicles for the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces is Komatsu. This armored vehicle debuted last year.

According to the attache staff member, this vehicle weighs roughly 4 tons, and can carry four soldiers at a maximum speed of 60 mph for more than 200 miles without refueling.

Is the Pentagon aware of this vehicle? Does it perform as well as an up-armored Humvee under similar hostile fire, and could it be added to the U.S. Army’s fleet of armored vehicles more quickly than the up-armored Humvees now on order? Of course, performance and speed of deployment are the top priorities.

Mercedes has a similar vehicle used by the Canadians, but the Komatsu vehicle apparently has a much lower profile than the Mercedes vehicle, among other things.

While Komatsu may not be the only viable alternative provider for these vehicles on the list, 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.


Mr. Brown is a free-lance writer from Mount Desert, Maine.

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