March 23, 2006

Army faulted over wartime armor delays

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army failed to have enough
armor ready for trucks used after the 2003 invasion of Iraq
even though it was told in 1996 to strengthen the vehicles,
congressional investigators said on Thursday.

In addition, it took longer to produce the armor once it
was ordered because fewer of the truck armor kits were
requested than were needed, said the nonpartisan Government
Accountability Office, Congress's audit and investigative arm.

"The Army did not fully capitalize on approved operational
requirements for truck armor that were established in 1996,"
said the report for the Senate and House Armed Service

The 1996 requirements were similar to those developed in
2003 in response to experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, GAO

GAO said armor-installation delays had placed U.S. forces
"at greater risk as they conducted wartime operations in
vehicles not equipped with the preferred level of protection."

Armed U.S. convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan have been the
target of deadly attacks by enemy forces. The threat of
improvised explosive devices has grown into the No. 1 killer of
U.S. troops in Iraq. In response, the Army, among other things,
has added armor to medium and heavy trucks in the region.

Nearly 2,300 American troops have died in Iraq.

The Army expected to have all trucks traveling dangerous
routes strengthened with armored panels and bullet-resistant
glass by the end of January except for fuel tankers, said the
report, carried out from last April through January.

Completion of armor kit installation for tankers was
expected by January 2007, it said.

Although the Army first identified a requirement for 3,780
truck armor kits for five types of trucks in November 2003, it
did not produce all of the kits until February 2005 -- 18
months later.

GAO said funding was not always available to award
contracts at the time requirements were identified. But it said
officials could not explain why increased funding was not
provided earlier nor how funding decisions were made.

It recommended the Army establish a process to document and
communicate all urgent wartime funding requirements for
supplies and equipment at the time they are identified.

In comments on a draft of the report, the Defense
Department said it agreed with the aim of this recommendation
but held that the Army's current approach already did this.