By Matthew D. LaPlante
The Salt Lake Tribune
Oct. 22, 2005

BAGHDAD — Insurgent fighters are increasingly targeting U.S. troops with more sophisticated explosives. The devices include "shaped charge" explosives, which channel the blast toward the target; multiple-munition improvised explosives; and even high-powered bombs built to look indistinguishable from the broken concrete and rugged boulders that litter Iraq's highways.

The more complex explosives come as military officials say they have pushed as many top-tier armored Humvees into the war zone as they can — and still have a ways to go.

Meanwhile, soldiers and commanders grumble about a "one-for-one" exchange program in which lesser armored vehicles are traded for newer models with stronger shells. The catch: The old vehicles must have been severely damaged or destroyed in battle.

Commanders say that means their troops must be shot at or bombed in order to get a newer, safer vehicle. And maintenance workers report that the threshold of replacement is so high that they have had to repair some vehicles that have been struck in roadside bomb attacks in excess of five times.

Sterling McMurrin, executive officer of the Utah-based 222nd Field Artillery, said the effort to replace the rickety, kit-armored Level 2 Humvees with factory-armored Level 1 vehicles, known as the M1114 model, needs to be expedited as much as possible, given the number of roadside bombs called improvised explosives devices, or IEDs.

"We recently had an IED incident, and the M1114 was the only thing that saved the soldiers' lives," McMurrin said. "I have no doubt that if it had been anything less we would be putting them in the ground today."

Of course, McMurrin said, that leaves the unit one truck short.

"The process of getting it replaced takes time," he said, "which means somewhere a soldier is relegating his protection to make up the difference."

Responding to an article in The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month about the pace of "up-armoring" the military's fleet of war trucks, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seeking an explanation.

The article noted that members of a Utah-based transportation company logged more than 200,000 miles hauling fuel tankers behind rigs with Level 3 armor -- called "hillbilly armor" by troops here. The trucks were equipped with a single sheet of quarter-inch steel welded to the driver and passenger doors and had no undercarriage protection or ballistic windows. The company has since received authori- zation to send its final two trucks to Kuwait for better armor.

"After several years of substantial congressional funding for fully armored vehicles, it is disturbing to note that troops in theater are still not properly equipped," Matheson wrote.

Officials at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, where many vehicles are armored and new vehicles are processed for distribution, say they have sent thousands of factory-armored vehicles into Iraq. The hundreds that have remained parked on sand lots at Arifjan, said Lt. Col. Debbie Haston-Hilger, need to be retained "to provide an immediate replacement" to units whose Humvees are damaged by bombs, bullets and mortars.

But with 309 troops killed in roadside bomb explosions since June, many service members say they would prefer to use their older vehicles as replacements, if need be, and get as many factory-armored models to combat units as soon as possible.