Why is the White House underfunding armored Humvees?
More important, while the White House insists that there's plenty of money already budgeted to cover operations through the end of the year—mostly from the $87 billion that Congress approved in the fall—by the Pentagon's own estimate, the current budget already scrimps on retrofitting Humvees. According to an Army document offered to Congress, the military has an existing $323 million shortfall for add-on armor kits.
Most of that missing money would cover Humvees. But the military also wants other vehicles—trucks, tankers, etc.—to get the kits and, according to the Army, those are being underfunded, too. For instance, the current budget has just 27 percent of the money the Army estimates it needs to get medium trucks up to snuff. This situation doesn't seem to improve with the proposed 2005 budget. As Sen. Ted Kennedy noted in a recent Armed Services Committee hearing, "Medium truck add-on armor kits: zero '04 funding, zero '05 funding. Heavy truck add-on armor kits: zero '04 funding, zero '05 funding."
The Army will likely get its money, eventually. It will have to take it from other military programs and "reprogram" the funds for the armor efforts. That requires congressional approval and takes time. Not the best way to do business. One congressional staffer described it as "forcing the Army to eat itself." (Another congressional staffer argued that the Army itself is partly to blame, saying it at least acceded to the underfunding calculating that Congress would find money for such a hot-button issue anyway.)
In the meantime, as the shortfall continues, soldiers have been jury-rigging their own armor. Some simply add sandbags—apparently not a good idea if you're concerned about the vehicle's stability—and some have gotten even more inventive. An Army reservist in Baghdad became a mini-celebrity after he scrounged for materials and devised his own armored Humvee. Dubbed the "Butler Mobile" after the name of its creator, the home-made armored Humvee has standard steel, and the protection is at best adequate. Of course, that's not satisfying many. One National Guard officer told the Army Times that the failure to deliver a sufficient number of armored and up-armored Humvees to Iraq "bordered on negligence." The budget writers might want to ponder that.
Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.
Photograph of Humvee by Noor al-Dein/Reuters; photograph on the Slate home page by Marwan Naamani/Agence France-Presse.