Up-Armoring Humvees Kills More Soldiers than Saved

Armor on Iraq Humvees Is Linked to Deadly Rollovers

Thousands of pounds of armor added to military Humvees in Iraq have made the vehicles more likely to roll over and kill or injure soldiers, a newspaper reported. “I believe the up-armoring has caused more deaths than it has saved,” Scott Badenoch, a former Delphi Corp. vehicle dynamics expert, told the Dayton Daily News for its Sunday editions.

Congress and the Army have spent tens of millions of dollars on armor for the Humvee fleet in Iraq, the newspaper said. That armor — much of it installed on the M1114 Humvee built at the Armor Holdings Inc. plant north of Cincinnati — has shielded soldiers from harm. But serious accidents involving the M1114 have increased, and accidents are much more likely to be rollovers than those involving other Humvee models, the newspaper reported.

An analysis of the Army’s ground-accident database, which includes records from March 2003 through November 2005, found that 60 of the 85 soldiers who died in Humvee accidents in Iraq — or about 70 percent — were killed when the vehicle rolled, the newspaper said. Of the 337 injuries, 149 occurred in rollovers. “The whole thing is a formula for disaster,” said Badenoch, who is working with the military to design a lighter-armored vehicle.

Army spokesman John Boyce Jr. told the Associated Press on Sunday that the military takes the issue seriously and continues to provide soldiers with additional training on the armored Humvee. The Army has made safety upgrades to the vehicle, including improved seat restraint belts and a fire-suppression system, he said.

There are more than 25,300 armored Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. When Humvees roll, the most vulnerable passenger is the gunner, the soldier who operates the weapon mounted atop the vehicle. Gunners were killed in at least 27 of the 93 fatal Humvee accidents since 2001, according to the newspaper’s analysis. [emphasis added]

The story isn’t totally new; we’ve known since at least March 2005 that the armored Humvees were more roll-over prone. That the net result is more deaths than saved by the armor, though, is new.

The reporting here gives the impression that it is the true armored Humvees (M1114s) rather than up-armored standard (M998) Humvees that are the culprit. If correct, that’s a surprising finding. I’ve long suspected that strapping armor onto a vehicle not designed to carry it would be problematic. As to the M1114s, they were previously a special purpose vehicle mostly used by military police (MP) units. They may simply not be appropriate for more standard patrolling operations.

Cori Dauber, whole noting the tragedy of this, also sees some dark humor: “Too bad the press, of course, lacks a sense of irony. Will they now excoriate the military for endangering the troops by over-armoring their vehicles, and demand to know when the dangerous armor will be removed from the entire humvee fleet?”

UPDATE: Doing a bit of research to bolster a point I made above, I actually found I was in error. The M1114 is not the Armament Carrier variant of the HMMWV used by MPs; that’s the M1025/M1026 family. The M1114 is a factory up-armored vehicle, dubbed the Enhanced Capacity Vehicle (ECV), that arose in reaction to the Kosovo operation.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. SgtFluffy says:

    I read this yesterday and I couldn’t help but think of how “nannyism” has made its way into the US Miltary. Its like OSHA is running the war

  2. Anderson says:

    Cori, Sarge, you’re hilarious. Hope no one you love has been blown up in a Humvee in Iraq.

    How about directing some attention to our failure to build enough properly armored Humvees in the first place?

  3. James Joyner says:

    Anderson:

    No, it appears that the injuries are from the “properly armored Humvees.”

    And, while it’s absolutely fair to take the administration to task for not having enough body armor, it’s silly to blame them for not having enough up-armored Humvees, which were a special purpose vehicle until now.

    Especially in the comments on a post about how said Humvees are actually causing more deaths than they are preventing.

  4. I think there are a couple of very important points here that James has glossed over a little bit.

    1) Things aren’t always what they seem. It might appear “obvious” to any civilian that adding more armor saves lives in combat, but this is far from always the case. In fact, there have been many other stories of Marine’s choosing to leave their armor behind because it weighs them down and makes them more of a target.

    2) Combat power is, and historically always has been, a tradeoff between firepower, armor, and mobility. You cannot have all three, not with today’s technology. It makes very little sense for civilians sitting at home watching the war on TV to second guess how the soldiers actually doing the fighting choose to make that tradeoff.

  5. LJD says:

    Makes sense to me.

    Andersen, ever drive an uparmored hummer in a tactical situation?

    Even know the difference between one that is intended to be armored, and that which is retrofitted?

    Nice typical left-wing response though… ‘If some one you love was blown up, blah blah, blah’. Sheesh!

  6. James Joyner says:

    Russ: Agreed. I was going to cite myself making that argument very early in this controversy–I’m sure that I did–but I couldn’t find it.

  7. DC Loser says:

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned here and probably contributed significantly to the increased casualties is the escalation in sophistication and technology of the IEDs. Earlier on they were crude bombs made from artillery shells and such. Now we’re seeing more explosive formed penetrators (shaped charges) that no amount of up armoring will stop. I would bet that a significant amount of injuries are from the EFP IEDs. We up armored against the old IEDs, meanwhile the insurgent technologies have moved on to more deadly results.

  8. Steven Plunk says:

    While we have statistics concerning the accidents can we really say the up-armoring has costs more lives than it has saved?

    More likely we can just expect somebody to always be bitching about something. No good deed goes unpunished.

  9. SgtFluffy says:

    To Anderson:
    Cori, Sarge, youâ??re hilarious. Hope no one you love has been blown up in a Humvee in Iraq.

    No, I haven’t lost a loved one in Iraq, but I did lose 47 shipmates in an explosion as a result of an accident. You want to talk safety with me?

  10. Anderson says:

    No, it appears that the injuries are from the â??properly armored Humvees.â??

    Ow. Reading Is Fundamental.

    Even know the difference between one that is intended to be armored, and that which is retrofitted?

    Obviously, the difference turns out to be counterintuitive.