Monday, June 12, 2006


The Cost of Armor

The Dayton Daily News over the weekend published a lugubrious hit piece about the US Military’s up-armored HUMVEE. (I reach for the million dollar word if only because you will rarely find a better example in print of what the word means.)

They center the product of their “six-month Dayton Daily News examination” on grieving military families that lost loved ones in HUMVEE roll-overs. More on the overall tone of the DDN piece later.

CNN clamors atop the HUMVEE story, publishing an Associated Press wire story, evidently based on the DDN report, and involving the same sources:

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) -- Thousands of pounds of armor added to military Humvees, intended to protect U.S. troops, have made the vehicles more likely to roll over, killing and injuring soldiers in Iraq, a newspaper reported.

"I believe the up-armoring has caused more deaths than it has saved," said Scott Badenoch, a former Delphi Corp. vehicle dynamics expert told the Dayton Daily News for Sunday editions.

Whatever kind of “vehicle dynamics expert” Badenoch might be, he’s no statistician – but then neither are the reporters at the DDN, AP, or CNN, who never attempt to offer any supporting data (about vehicle accident rates, or death or injury rates in Iraq). You know, to provide appropriate context.

Here’s the data that DDN hyped into a multi-page story:

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 70 percent -- were killed when the vehicle rolled, the newspaper reported. 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 to replace the Humvee.

CNN omits what is the very next paragraph in the DDN piece. Give the Dayton Daily News credit for finding some “other side of the story” sources:

Ron Hoffman, senior research physicist at the Aerospace and Mechanics Division of the University of Dayton's Research Institute, believes the armor provides a necessary shield against roadside bombs, hand-propelled rockets, machine-gun fire and improvised explosive devices.

"These IEDs they're facing in Iraq are potent," he said. "If I was over there ... I would opt for the armor."

Still, Hoffman agreed that there have been consequences.

"You are shifting the center of gravity in the vehicle," he said. "With the threat they're facing over in Iraq, I can see the dilemma: We put more armor on to protect our soldiers and destabilize the vehicle."

The CNN is miniscule compared to the DDN piece, yet manages to include a response from an Army spokesperson, which was more than DDN was able to score:

Army spokesman John Boyce Jr. told The Associated Press on Sunday that the military takes the issue seriously and continues to provide soldiers with added training on the armored Humvee.

The Army also made safety upgrades to the vehicle, including improved seat restraint belts and a fire suppression system for the crew, he said.

There are more than 25,300 armored Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

The DDN reports, “Of the 177 Army Humvee accidents worldwide in all of 2003, 110 occurred in Iraq, including 24 of the 29 fatalities.”

I went to Iraq with a non-combat unit, which conducted only 150 or so convoys with up armored HUMVEES during our 10 month deployment out of the 1000 or more such convoys that had to take place daily in Iraq. How many more combat patrols took place, one can only guess, but if the Dayton Daily News really wanted to check out cumulative mileage posted by the 25,000 HUMVEES in Iraq, that figure would be in the millions of miles. I ask them: how many times has an up-armored HUMVEE been hit by an IED? How many soldiers were spared injury or death due to the armor?

We had about 200 soldiers, 20 or so on the road frequently, 10 attached to a scout unit that executed real combat missions. Our guys were hit three times in 10 months, a pretty low figure, sure, but here’s my point. Two of the three IEDs detonated in such a way that two truck crews could have been injured by shrapnel or hit by small arms fire or RPG. They weren’t, one vehicle sustained light damage.

We saw scores of HUMVEES subjected to IEDs, our mechanics were often called upon the fix vehicles for MPs or other soldiers whose trips outside the wire made them much more vulnerable to attack. We saw HUMVEE windows that withstood a direct hit from an RPG. Demolished M1114s were everybody was able to walk away.

We had opportunity, after the fact, to see the ones in which all occupants died. Those were usually IEDs with multiple 155 MM shells and fire accelerants like gasoline added for lethal effect. No protection is perfect, but not a one of us would have wanted to give up our M1114s.

Back to the Dayton Times piece, and the overall tone of it, and why it got me so fired up reading it. Here’s an example, multiply by 10 and you get the point:

"My fear for him was the roadside bombs and enemy fire," said Nancy Fontana, whose son, Spc. Anthony Cometa of Henderson, Nev., was killed after he was ejected from the gun turret as his up-armored Humvee rolled over. "I never thought this would happen, just some kind of accident."

Cometa, who joined the Nevada National Guard to earn money for college and volunteered to be a gunner while in training, died on June 15, 2005, one day after his 21st birthday.

"There needs to be some kind of prevention to protect the boys riding around in these Humvees," Fontana said.

In no way do I mean to minimize the suffering or insult the grief of these families who have lost loved ones. But to the press, who so helpfully gives them a soapbox from which to air their grief and anger, as long as it’s inwardly directed against the military, rather than the brutal enemy that makes risk inevitable.

Too bad the reporters of this propaganda piece couldn’t be bothered to squeeze any investigation into vehicle roll-over and accident rates more generally, or how accidents due to roll-overs could be compared to reasonable estimates of lives saved by the armor.

To get a sense of what kind of context one might more accurately assess the rollover and accident data, one need look no further than the comments of this piece online.

How are these for facts in context:

The additional armor of the HUMVEE has almost certainly saved great multitudes of soldiers injury or death, compared to accident injuries and fatalities. (Ask any soldier who relied on the armor in combat. I wouldn’t have wanted to go outside the wire without it.

All of our National Guard soldiers were not only advised of the roll-over threat, but we were required to pass a special driving test on the uparmored M1114 HUMVEEs. Our motor pool, those most heavily called upon to drive, command, or gun in these vehicles, made sure every driver of these vehicles were licensed and trained to avoid roll-over or minimize injury. Each of our convoys was preceded by a convoy briefing that included roll-over instructions and drill.

Accident rates for the HUMVEE in Iraq are substantially less than rates for civilian vehicle roll-overs in the US.

But if what you want to do is establish a narrative that can now damn the US military – the issue of lack of armor now being pretty much shot to pieces – than a hit piece on how all this armor is actually killing soldiers is made to order.

This report reminds me of the stupidity surrounding air bags – in which hysterical reports of a bare handful of deaths almost obliterated any sensible awareness that many, many thousands more were saved.

Again, ask a soldier. Do they want to ride in the fully armored HUMVEES, or something less?

(Via Mudville Gazette and and Real Clear Politics)

Excerpts posted at Milblogs.

Other commentary up at Confederate Yankee, A Blog For All, Wizbangblog, Independent Sources

Linked at Mudville Gazette

UPDATE: If you haven't already, go to Chaotic Synaptic Activity. CSA has an excellent post that considers rapid re-engineering and deployment of new engineering in response to combat experiences.

CSA uses the example of retrofitting of FARRAGUT (DD-348) Class Destroyers in WWII, and makes a good argument about pros and cons of such decisions, and unintended consequences.

Here's a segment of CSA's case study, but do read the whole thing:
On December 10th, 1941, the British battleship HMS PRINCE OF WALES and battlecruiser HMS REPULSE were sunk in the South China Sea by a Japanese air attack. Within a few short days, the Japanese Navy forever changed the face of war at sea. Proving the capability of aircraft launching and attacking from long range as the effective method of projecting power. The sun set on the era of the large captial gunship that day.

The message was not missed by the United States. Of the many reactions, one is illustritive of the same issue of the present day top heavy armored HMVEE. The FARRAGUT (DD-348) Class Destroyers, as many others, were soon fitted with many more topside anti-aircraft guns, in the form of 20 and 40mm, single, dual and quad mounts to provide better protection from high altitude bombing and low altitude torpedo attacks from carrier and land based aircraft.

Desiging a ship is a calculated effort, carefully balancing not only the raw weight of the vessel against the bouyancy of the water, but also the specific placement of items of significant weight within the hull. Naval architects make exacting computations when constructing a vessel, such as the MAHAN destroyers. The plans are filed and retained for susbequent modifications tot he ship. During construction, particularly with the first vessel of a class, there is extra testing to test the accuracy of the calculations of the engineering at the drawing boards. One such important test is the “inclining experiment.” The ship is set pierside and then weights are carefully placed by a plan and then the heel and pitch of the vessel are observed as a result. Hopefully, the ship changes postition as planned. If not…something is amiss.

My point here is there is a concerted effort to make sure the ship put to sea can handle the sea conditions and right itself in storms.

Dec 18, 1944 was the day that 2 US FARRAGUT Class destroyers, part of ADM Halsey’s THIRD FLeet, sunk while transiting through a typhoon, while one (USS DEWEY (DD-349)) was survived. Certainly being at sea in a typhoon is an extreme condition, but the interesting part is the ships lost were all of the same class.
I do think the results of CSA's example are more extreme than the relative comparison for HUMVEES (i.e., lives saved by up armoring versus lives lost to accident or roll-over). In fact, like seatbealt or airbags, I'd say the decision to up-armor the HUMVEE, based on statistics, was the right decision. We'd have far more injuries and deaths without the armor.

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