Not Supporting Our Troops
The New York Times | Editorial
Thursday 15 February 2007
How do you explain to the thousands of American troops now being poured into Baghdad that they will have to wait until the summer for the protective armor that could easily mean the difference between life and death?
It's bad enough that these soldiers are being asked to risk their lives without President Bush demanding that Iraq's leaders take any political risks that might give the military mission at least an outside chance of success. But according to an article in The Washington Post this week, at least some of the troops will be sent out in Humvees not yet equipped with FRAG Kit 5 armor. That's an advanced version designed to reduce deaths from roadside bombs, which now account for about 70 percent of United States casualties in Iraq.
The more flexible materials used in the FRAG Kit 5 make it particularly helpful in containing the damage done by the especially deadly weapon the Bush administration is now most concerned about: those explosively formed penetrators that Washington accuses Iran of supplying to Shiite militias for use against American troops.
Older versions of Humvee armor are shattered by these penetrators, showering additional shrapnel in the direction of a Humvee's occupants. The FRAG Kit 5 helps slow the incoming projectile and contains some of the shrapnel, giving the soldiers a better chance of survival.
Armor upgrades like this have become a feature of the Iraq war, as the Pentagon struggles to keep up with the constantly more powerful weapons and sophisticated tactics of the various militia and insurgent forces attacking American troops. But the Army, the National Guard and the Marine Corps have been caught constantly behind the curve.
Unglamorous and relatively inexpensive staples of ground combat, like armor, have never really captured the imagination and attention of military contractors and Pentagon budget-makers the way that "Top Gun" fighter jets, stealthy warships and "Star Wars" missile interceptors generally do.
The Army says it is now accelerating its production of FRAG Kit 5 armor and handing it out to Baghdad-bound units on a priority basis. But it acknowledges that the armor upgrading project will not be completed until summer. Right now, it's February, and the new American drive in Baghdad has already begun.
That's a shame, if not an outright scandal, because up-to-date armor is essential for saving American lives.