THE BLOG
08/02/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Military Industrial Complex: Truck You, Detroit, or Tanks for Nuttin' Update

Update (July 7, 2009): Seven American troops and one Brit were killed yesterday in Afghanistan. Six of the American soldiers were killed by roadside bombs. I do not know how the Brit died. But, I know that none of them had the new trucks designed specifically for use in Afghanistan. The new trucks are supposed to better protect soldiers from IEDs. They should be there, and that was the point of this piece. From what I've learned from your comments, the fact that Detroit isn't producing the new vehicles may be more Detroit's fault than the DOD's. But, to the men who die in IED explosions, it makes no difference. Today's InsideDefense says that, "The Army's Training and Doctrine Command has put together a first draft of its plan for integrating Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles into its units, according to Army officials." How many more drafts will it take to get our soldiers the best weapons with which to fight this war? I'd like to think that this blog and your comments may have had some effect on the DOD's truck program. I do think that more pressure from veteran's groups and concerned citizens will force the DOD to move faster. As I watched the July 4th parades, with so many amputees marching, I wondered how many limbs might have be saved if we had our vehicles ready for Afghanistan before we sent the new contingents into battle. Donald Rumsfeld said, we fight wars with the Army we have, not the Army we want. I think it's only fair to our troops to fight wars with the equipment they need, not with equipment that exists only in "first drafts".

Last month, InsideDefense.com informed us that the Joint Requirements Oversight Council of the DOD had "approved a new requirement" for 5,244 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicles (MRAPs) for troops deployed in Afghanistan. "The original RFP [Request for Proposal] indicated the program could grow to include as many as 10,000 vehicles." The article added that "In May, the Army and Marine Corps awarded contracts for three production-representative vehicles to BAE systems, Oshkosh, Navistar and Forced Dynamics--a Forced Protection and General Dynamics Land Systems Team." Last week, InsideDefense reported that the Army awarded Oshkosh a separate $1.1 billion contract for 2,244 lighter weight MRAPs for use in Afghanistan. You will note that none of these companies is based in Detroit.

During World War II, Detroit was called the Arsenal of Democracy--GM, Ford and Chrysler stopped making cars and instead turned out tanks, cargo/troop carriers, ambulances and trucks; Willy's stopped making automobiles and invented Jeeps and America rolled to victory on Detroit wheels. But, in the late seventies, the Army told Detroit to "truck-off" after deciding that its militarized trucks could no longer meet the Army's needs, and went off on a search for new vendors.

In 1979, the Army chose American Motors and its AMG subsidiary to develop the High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV or Humvee) and then, in 1981, awarded AMG a contract for 55,000 of those vehicles. They were designed to carry troops and/or cargo and worked fine in Panama and in the first Iraq war. However, they were unarmored and, in 1993 in Mogadishu, proved unable to protect the soldiers they carried. (The movie was called Blackhawk Down.)

So, in need of a vehicle capable of withstanding small arms fire, the Army and the Marine Corps went back to AMG to develop the M1114, another Humvee, but this time with an armored cab and bulletproof glass. It failed to consider that in the next war, a new enemy might introduce Claymore mines, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), rocket propelled grenades, or anti-tank missiles. Due to that lack of foresight, hundreds of soldiers and marines were killed, and thousands severely injured by mines, IEDs and RPGs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Detroit was building fewer and fewer cars, closing more and more factories and laying off more and more qualified assembly line workers. Even as Army generals pleaded for more Army vehicles, the DOD did not turn to GM, Chrysler or Ford. In Iraq, soldiers searched through scrap heaps to find steel plates to "up-armor" their personnel carriers. "Up-armor" vehicle kits requested in 2003 were not delivered until mid-2005.

As far back as the late nineties, according to The New York Times, "The Pentagon was warned by its own experts" to "move beyond the Humvee" because "it was built for the Cold War." But the armored vehicles cost far more, and the DOD without as far as I know, getting any quotes from Detroit, "resisted allocating money for more expensive vehicles." So, in 2003 in Iraq, "the military ended up largely dependent on Humvees- a vast majority of which did not have any armor- in both combat and non-combat operations in the war." The Times quoted from a 2002 memorandum to Congress by Assistant Army Secretary Claude M. Bolton, Jr. that, "'The decision is based on budget priorities'...Existing vehicles, he added, can be used instead 'without exposing our soldiers to an unacceptable amount of risk.'"

As the risk in Afghanistan proved "unacceptable", the Defense Department began sending AMG Humvee chassis to a relatively small Ohio Company, O'Gara-Hess and Eisenhardt, for "up-armoring". The Times reported that when the war with Iraq began O'Gara "had 94 people armoring one Humvee a day." As late as June of 2005, "The Marine Corps [was] still awaiting [the delivery of] the 498 armored Humvees it sought" from O'Gara the previous fall. I am sure Detroit would have done better than that.

By that time, O'Gara had received more than $1 billion in military armoring contracts. That money might have been better spent in Detroit, where assembly lines were standing idle and experienced workers were losing their jobs every day. It might have even saved us some of the billions of dollars we are pouring into General Motors for which we receive not armored vehicles, but pieces of paper.

In 2004, the DOD decided that it was perhaps time to acquire a new more protective troop-carrying vehicle, "the Cougar." The British had been using Cougars since 2002, and was obtaining them from a small South Carolina production company Force Protection, LLC. According to The New York Times, the Marine Corps decided that "To help defeat roadside ambushes" it would "buy 122 Cougars whose special V-shaped hull helps deflect roadside bombs." At the time the contract was awarded to Force Protection, the company "employed only 39 workers, and had never mass produced the vehicles." The results were predictable--prototype failures and delay after delay.

The Times quoted company officials as saying that "a string of blunders has pushed the completion date to June...A dozen prototypes shipped to Iraq had been recalled from the fields to replace a failing transmission. Steel was cut to the wrong size before the trucks' design drawings were perfected. Several managers have left the company...'It is what it is, and we're running as fast as we can to change it,' Gordon McGilton, the company's Chief Executive said..."

In the meantime, O'Gara-Hess and Eisenhardt were falling behind schedule, and when the Army requested that they permit other companies to "up-armor" the AMG chassis, but again quoting The New York Times, "O'Gara-Hess and Eisenhardt, has waged an aggressive campaign to hold on to its exclusive deal even as soaring rush orders from Iraq had been plagued by delays...In January [2005], when military officials tried to speed production by buying the legal rights to the armor design so they could enlist other venders to help, O'Gara demurred, calling the move a threat to its 'current and future competitive position,' according to e-mail records obtained from the Army."

To quote The New York Times once more, "The Pentagon decided against asking Detroit automakers like General Motors, which makes the Humvee's civilian version, the Hummer, to start making armored Humvees because they would need too much time to set up new assembly lines." I wonder who at General Motors told them so. O'Gara did not expect to be able to armor the necessary 550 vehicles a month until late in the spring of 2005. I bet General Motors could've done better than that.

As to Force Protection and the Cougar, the company ran into more and more difficulties. It has been sued by its investors, and LegalRadar reports that it settled a federal law suit claiming that "the company used advanced payment 'for purposes other than that to which the United States government had intended'" for $1.8 million. Its stock has fallen from a high of over $30 to $5.38 a share, as of today. The latest blow to the company's future was last week's award to Oshkosh of the contract for the new MRAP vehicle.

It seems to me that the military has fallen upon hard times. No longer does it seek the best available weapons, but rather looks for the most affordable. The Brits afforded Cougars in 2003 but we stuck with Humvees until 2005. Humvees could've been "up-armored" in 2003, but the DOD rejected requests from at least one field general, and an understaffed O'Gara couldn't reach proper production levels until the spring of 2005.

For two years, soldiers and marines who should have have been better protected were killed and maimed because our military procurement system was in great disorder. One cannot blame this entirely on the Pentagon; Congress makes sure that most members' districts get some share of the defense industry pie, and contracts are often awarded on the basis of location, rather than performance.

Despite the fact that President Obama had insisted during his campaign that he would change the emphasis on the war in Iraq to the war in Afghanistan, despite the fact that General Petraeus had repeatedly stressed his concerns about Afghanistan and his plans to send more troops there, and an earlier joint operational needs statement from military commanders in Afghanistan, the Army did not put out an RFP for the new vehicles until December of 2008.
Then delays were caused by protests from a contractor. Navistar, one of the competitors for the contract cited a "technicality" about definitions in the evaluation process. InsideDefense reported that, "The company [Navistar] withdrew its protest after the Army and Marine Corps quickly amended the request for proposals to clarify the definitions of 'hull' and 'hull breach.'" For whatever reason, it took the Army seven months from the RFP to the award of the contract.

On July 2nd, The New York Times reported that, "Almost 4,000 United States Marines pushed into the volatile Helmand River valley in southwestern Afghanistan early Thursday morning to try to take back the region from Taliban fighters whose control of poppy harvests and opium smuggling in Helmand provides major funding for the Afghan insurgency...The operation is described as the first major push in southern Afghanistan by the newly bolstered American force." The Times also mentions that, "improvised explosive devices...are the most feared weapon."

Obviously, the Marines are not yet equipped with the new safer "Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicles", that InsideDefense mentioned in its report. These are specially designed "lighter MRAPs for Afghanistan," and Oshkosh is just going into production. InsideDefense did not report when the vehicles will be shipped, but the Marines do not now have access to weapons specially designed to meet their needs as they launch an offensive that portends some of the deadliest warfare yet. It is a certainty that some Marines will die because they have not been properly equipped.

Detroit, a once great city is dying, too. It has been delivered unto poverty. Last Sunday, The Times reported that 23% of Michigan's blacks are unemployed, and the number is likely to go higher. A city, a state, which once gave decent, middle-class wages to assembly line workers, is now attempting to find jobs for hundreds of thousands of unemployed who will probably never find jobs that good again. And Detroit is not the only city facing devastation. GM plants from New Jersey to California have shut down; Chrysler has closed plants in Michigan; St. Louis, Ohio, Delaware and elsewhere. A lot of the $25 billion that we have advanced to GM and Chrysler would have been better spent if we had paid it to them in return for building MRAPs and ATVs and other military vehicles.

Our military procurement system is a mess. Our automobile industry is a mess. We might have helped both if we had gotten them to agree to build the next generation of military vehicles together. We seem to have never considered that possibility. At the risk of sounding like a "socialist", I suggest that somewhere in the White House or in the Cabinet there might be someone coordinating our defense needs and our industrial capacity. The current version of the military-industrial complex has proved inadequate. It's time for a change.