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Raising the deflector shields, Part II

In my recent discussion about the idea of armoring Humvees, I had the nagging feeling I had forgotten a thing or two. The first was what Mahan gently pointed out in the comments -- one benefit of armoring up the Humvees is the peace of mind of the soldiers who actually have to ride around in them. Not taking into account the morale of the troops was a rather stupid thing of me to do, and I should have included it.

The second thing that I didn't mention was what would be the logical response of the terrorists (I refuse to call them "insurgents") to the uparmored Humvees. As I've said countless times before, I'm no expert on these things, I'm just a guy with way too much time to think about these things. So I set myself the task of how to successfully attack them.

The first thing that occurred to me is that, historically, in battles between weapons and armor, weapons always win in the end. We simply can't make the Humvees invulnerable to any and all attacks. They'll continue to be attacked, and we will continue to lose soldiers in them. That's an ugly, but inescapable, fact.

So, as a terrorist, what do I do? My first thought is to simply make the bombs bigger. They don't even have to be a lot bigger. While the armor may cut down on the deaths from shrapnel, there's only so much it can do to protect the occupants from the shock and concussion of a bomb. An increase of just five to ten percent should be enough to offset any gains from armoring.

But are there other possibilities? I think so. The goal of the terrorists isn't "use improvised explosive devices." It's "kill Americans." They've gotten a lot of mileage out of the IEDs, but they're not married to them. If something better came along, they'd dump the IED assembly lines and start cranking out the new devices.

And the first one that springs to mind when attacking soldiers in a slow, low-riding, shortened-range, impaired-visibility vehicle like a heavily armored Humvee would be firebombs.

Iraq has plenty of oil and gasoline, and the formula for making napalm is one of the worst-kept secrets in the world. I'd bet that more people are familiar with the basic concept than have seen Pamela Lee naked.

I can't imagine anything closer to hell on earth than to be caught in a slow-moving, armored Humvee that's been hit with an improvised napalm bomb. The metal of the armor would turn the inside into an oven. The napalm would melt the tires, the fuel lines, and anything else as it clung to the vehicle, and with the armor, it wouldn't be able to get out of danger quickly.

If you think it's bad now with our wounded veterans coming home bearing the marks of bullets and bombs, just wait until the first major burn victims show up in public. The hue and cry will be inconceivable. And the inevitable videos of burning vehicles and bodies will be broadcast 24/7 on Al Jazeera and any other network that can get it's hands on them.

The historical arguments of protection versus speed have been played out over and over, and never has there been a satisfactory answer. It's always a shifting balance point. And I worry about it tipping too far into the protection category here. But that's a matter for those more knowledgable than I to decide.


(Another of my standard disclaimers: I am not endorsing any of the predictions above. They don't represent what I wish to happen or even want to happen, but rather are the products of my pledge to always be as honest an analyst as I can possibly be, no matter how much I dislike what I have to say.)


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Comments (17)

I am no military strategist... (Below threshold)

I am no military strategist but a Humvee is a Humvee. If something more substancial is required then that is what we should equip our troops with. What I find troubeling in this so called controversy is that if we assume we do the armor and they do the IED then they get to do the shooting and that is bad for our guys. We need to take the fight to them. the question is not armor and speed but fire and maneuver.

The Provos used this same t... (Below threshold)
Captain Ned:

The Provos used this same tactic against the British in Northern Ireland with the effects you so rightly fear. From what I remember of news accounts of the time, the worst effect is asphyxiation as the flames consume all of the locally-available oxygen.

The MSM continues its search for the "Tet Moment", that one transcendent image which, when properly exploited, will somehow restore a universe where what they told America was the Truth and America was grateful for the Truth. This has that potential.

I have no grounds for a valid opinion either way on Humvee armoring and its drawbacks. I'm just a chair jockey who spends way too much time at the keyboard.

Well, As I get r... (Below threshold)
SGM BigBird:


As I get ready to load my HMMWV and drive the couple of hours to baghdad, I find your article interesting. I am stationed in Iraq, and ride in HMMWVs a lot, a whole lot. I find the HMMWV to be a vast improvement over the CUCV that they replace, or the M880 series before, and the Jeep before that. As you pointed out, it would be hard to make a vehicle that is safe against a determined enemy. I've seen M1 tanks blow apart by IEDs here. The HMMWV is doing a good job. I would like to see the number of miles driven versus the KIAs. I know for a fact that my Battalion has over 70,000 miles and counting. A few skid marks, but thankfully, no KIA or seriously hurt.

But if you happen to be in a HMMWV and beside a large IED, your hurt, that is for sure. But, there are a lot of testimonials on the other side of that coin, the ones that are safe and secure.

The unit that started the bruhaha about their armor, is an ACR, I've seen them in action at the NTC. I have spoken with a few of them, they say, the question was loaded and the asker was a loser. Take that for what you want.

SGM BigBird

Anyone who believes that at... (Below threshold)
Thomas J. Jackson:

Anyone who believes that attacking a vehicle with a Molotov cocktail or its equivalent is effective has either a death wish or is stupid. What the IRA did was to attack troops who couldn't respond with deadly force which doesn't apply in Iraq.

The effectiveness of such devices is highly overated.

SGM BigBird, I have a coupl... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

SGM BigBird, I have a couple things to say to you:
1) Thank you, sir, for your service. (As a civilian, I can get away with calling you "sir." EVERYONE outranks me, but you can't make me do pushups.)
2) Thank you again, sir, for taking the time and effort to comment here. You and your brethren are, as far as I'm concerned, always welcome here.
3) As you have Been There and Done That, and in fact are still There and Doing That on a daily basis, I gladly defer to your judgment. In fact, I think I might have injured myself in my haste to step aside.
4) One last time, thank you. I have always believed that I lacked the physical health and fitness, character, and courage to serve in the Armed Services, but thanks to you and all those other people like you, I've never been forced to confront that. You people give me the chance to sit on my ass every day and pontificate about crap I know nothing about as if I know everything, and for that I am grateful every day.
5) I personally think that it would be a national disgrace if you or any of your other veterans ever have to pay for half the beers you drink (or other food or beverages you prefer) for the rest of your lives. I know I'd be honored to pick up the tab, and it's the least any of us armchair generals could do to pay for those imaginary stars on our pajamas.


(For those who might be skeptical: I'm no expert on the Internet either, but based on SGM BigBird's posting IP and running it through Sam Spade, I strongly believe the above to be legit. If he's a faker, he's put more effort into it than the average troll -- and I don't think he is.)

Thomas, read it again. I di... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Thomas, read it again. I didn't say "Molotov cocktail(s) or its equivalent." I said firebombs. I'm talking devices the size of the IEDs they're using now (from artillery shells to barrels) loaded with improvised napalm and conventional explosives. Those, I fear, would be all too effective.


THANK YOU, SGM BigBird!... (Below threshold)


That's what I suspected about the asker of that loaded question to Sec. Rumsfeld, and you have confirmed it.

My best Christmas wishes to you and a victorious New Year.

Mr. Jackson, to start with ... (Below threshold)

Mr. Jackson, to start with he didn't say molotov cocktail, he said napalm, which is vastly different. Also, in Hungary in 1957 against the Soviet tanks molotovs were very effective in a restricted street environment. Rebels would put out soup plates on the street, these plates resembled mines, then when the tank stopped they would hurl molotovs down on them from the surrounding buildings. They were winning until the Soviets sent in so many troops the Hungarians didn't stand a chance, but they burned many tanks before they went down.

Ok, I posted this to Paul a... (Below threshold)

Ok, I posted this to Paul and I'll post my thoughts on this today here on your post, J. First, the mess hall that was hit in Mosul held battalions - the entire Stryker Brigade from Fort Lewis, WA. These funny looking vehicles for lack of a better word, are the safest equipment our soldiers have. When they made them, people scoffed, like "what good are these?" well , it turns out that in Iraq and places like it, they are a lifesaver. For most of the humvee's, there's a stryker not far behind them and they are usually able to secure the scene and get the guys out because they do burn and burn badly. And there are pictures and video out there of burned corpses being dragged through the streets of Baghdad, being hung from a pole and more. I don't know if there are more Stryker Brigades in Iraq as there are in Mosul but if we want a safe vehicle for our soldiers that doesn't get blown up, that won't burn, that goes over an IED like its' a speed bump, it's more strykers.

Your thoughts are getting clearer. If they put too much on - there are garages everywhere there doing just that and that's all they do, they still can only do so much. If hit by an RPG, or IED, or a morter shell, whomever is in that humvee or otherwise really doesn't have a chance to get out. Sometimes even with rescue right behind them and a helicopter in the air above them.

This is an urban, guerilla warfare and nobody expected all the terrorists to show up in this country with the sole thought of killing Americans by any and all means. What's needed are more Strykers - they are practically indestructable. So in a way, the only way to hurt the stryker brigade was to do what was done in Mosul the other day.

They only can be protected so much because if you're under fire, you have no place to go - you get out and hunker down and wait for help. Mosul is soon going to be the hot bed right after Baghdad and there will be less carnage because of the strykers and they are a very proud group of soldiers at that particular FOB.

Don't know if this helps or not. Personally, I think Mosul is going to have to crack down on their Iraqi drivers and translators and workers there - it is much too easy for one of them to be compromised, as we witnessed the other day.


The Stryker Brigade in Mosu... (Below threshold)

The Stryker Brigade in Mosul is the only one in Iraq. Battallions are detached from time to time and sent elsewhere, but there are only two active Stryker brigades in the entire US Army at this time. And the other one just got home from Iraq.

The Stryker is a very good vehicle, and far more protective than a Humvee, but it isn't anywhere near "practically indestructible". Maybe M1 tanks are, but even some of them have been destroyed by IEDs. The Stryker is nothing like an M1 tank. It's basically a lightly-armored truck with a ton of great gadgets and squad of mean dismounts itchin' to distribute some hurtin'.

There's always a trade-off between offensive capability (guns), defensive capability (armor), and speed (wheels/tracks) when you build a military vehicle. The M1 tank is high offense and defense, lower speed. The Humvee is high speed, low offense and defense. When you armor a Humvee, you increase the defense but you decrease the speed. The Stryker is somewhere in the middle.

I agree that Mosul is going to be a hotbed. A lot of the hardcore insurgents got out of Fallujah before we closed it off and cleaned it out, I think, and even before this latest attack there was talk that the fighters in Mosul were not the same ones that had been there for the past year. Plus, Mosul ain't that far from Syria.

The first thing that occ... (Below threshold)

The first thing that occurred to me is that, historically, in battles between weapons and armor, weapons always win in the end. We simply can't make the Humvees invulnerable to any and all attacks. They'll continue to be attacked, and we will continue to lose soldiers in them. That's an ugly, but inescapable, fact.

Thank you for pointing this out. Spears always pierce the shields put up against them, and the proof today is how RPGs can take out even armored M1s. It's a matter of physics, really, and mobility and speed may very well be more important than a false sense of impregnability that additonal armor may provide.

Murdoc - I know that the st... (Below threshold)

Murdoc - I know that the stryker brigade in Mosul is the only one in Iraq but if you talk to anyone from the Stryker Brigades, they would not agree with you about being practically indestructable; they love those strykers and we need more of them over there - all throughout the country for it is the safest vehicle made in the military. Unfortunately you can't put everyone in a stryker because they need the other vehicles for other reasons.


Just found this on my trave... (Below threshold)

Just found this on my travels through the internet; shows more than we hear about:

saddening we don't hear this kind of news.

"An increase of just five t... (Below threshold)

"An increase of just five to ten percent should be enough to offset any gains from armoring."

Be careful. The physics of explosives says otherwise. Overpressure goes as the cube root of the weight of the explosive. And there is a pretty tight relationship between blast overpressure and effects on people. Let's say increased armoring reduces the peak pressure by a factor of two, to get back to the original pressure inside of the newly armored vehicle, they would need eight times the weight of explosives. A little armor can go a long way.

Songbird, I have to go with... (Below threshold)

Songbird, I have to go with Jay on this and thank you and your comrades a huge thank you and if I could hug you all, I would. Please stay as safe as you can. Even though you are in Iraq, I hope you have a decent holiday.


Jim, I cheerfully defer to ... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Jim, I cheerfully defer to your greater knowledge of physics, explosives, and armor. But I think you're basing your arguments on a single, flawed assumption: that the explosives currently being used are exactly strong enough to do the job. I strongly suspect they're more powerful than need be, and therefore the armoring has a ways to go to simply match the current levels of bombs.

But, as usual, I'm probably talking out of my ass again.


No, you're not talking out ... (Below threshold)

No, you're not talking out your ass, Jay. Just look at their car bombs - wrecks everything within a half mile - all the cars on the road, the buildings, glass blown right out of everything and maknig a hole as big as a "smart bomb" and killing anyone within that distance - always to the max and to cause the maximum damage, so you're more than right when you say that you strongly suspect that these bombs are more powerful than they need to be. If a hundred cars can be ruined, buildings destroyed, anyone within the distance killed all the armor in the world is not going to protect anything.







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