Better Bombs Vs. Better Armor
I've been maintaining an ongoing skirmish of words with with a small segment of the population of Glenwood Springs, CO and the encompassing Roaring Fork Valley through the editorial pages of the local newspaper there, Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
The entire Roaring Fork Valley has become decidedly more liberal in it's political views since since my upbringing there and while there is no intent or desire to sway that through my prosiac jousts, it does make for good debate from time to time and I mainly continue the sparring because my mother likes to occasionally see my name in the paper.
There was a recent letter that I think deserves a bit more widespread scrutiny though, that from the mother of a new soldier apparently in or on his way to Iraq. Among other things, Ms. Nicholls states that sustaining casualties from IEDs in Iraq is preventable. All we need to do is provide up-armored HUMMWVs to every soldier in Iraq.
What concerns me about this is that the letter was published on the 8th of May and there have been no rebuttals. Is this the generally accepted point of view in America, that is is all just a matter of money and the only reason troops are dying from IEDs is that we don't care enough to simply provide them with up-armored hummers?
The reality is that the Army hasn't been allowed to send unarmored hummers to Iraq (or Afghanistan for that matter) for more than 2 years and any unarmored vehicle already there is certainly not taken off the FOBs. The sad fact is that the lethality of IEDs has increased far faster than armor technology and it always will (see Michael Yon's "Jungle Law" dispatch).
Deaths of American troops by roadside bombs may very well be preventable but when we are seeing IEDs in Iraq with enough lethality to detstroy Stryker vehicles and M1 tanks, conventional wisdom tells us that throwing more armor on a Hummer isn't the method that is going to achieve those ends. Adding more armor to HUMMWVs has a diminishing marginal utility. More armor is not only expensive but the additional weight reduces the performance and handling of the vehicle which plays its own factor in endangering troops. Additionally, adding more armor requires upgrades to not only the electrical system and air conditioning (putting the windows down on an armored vehicle pretty much defeats the purpose) but significant upgrades to the suspension, all of which gets vaporized when the bad guys simply wire one more artillery shell into their IED.
Militarily, we can't stop the lethality of IEDs from increasing, nor can we achieve a high rate of success in preventing those intent on emplacing them from doing so (see Michael Yon's "Rattlesnake" dispatch). The solution lies in removing the desire to emplace them and that solution is not, primarily a military one, but a political one.