The U.S. Army has asked the company that is producing fully armored Humvees to expand the Army’s order to 550 per month, an increase of 100 a month, NBC News learned Friday.
The move comes on the heels of a highly publicized exchange between a U.S. soldier in Kuwait and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that put the spotlight on the U.S. shortage of armored vehicles in the war with Iraq. It also sparked heated debate about U.S. preparations for the conflict and about the safety and morale of U.S. troops in Iraq.
As reported Thursday on NBC's “Nightly News,” the company, Armor Holdings, which adds the armor package to Army Humvees at its plant in Cincinnati, Ohio, said it could increase its production by 100 vehicles per month.
The Army hadn't asked for more vehicles, but when Pentagon and Army officials learned of the company's claim, they called the company and made the request of 100 more per month.
Pentagon officials said the company had told the Army it only had the capacity to produce 450 of the vehicles per month. On Friday, the company told the Army it actually has the capacity to produce 550 per month but was turning out 100 armored vehicles per month for other clients.
With a revised contract, the Army will get the 8,100 fully armored Humvees it had ordered two months early — in March instead of May — at no additional cost.
The question addressed to Rumsfeld was captured on tape as the defense secretary met troops in Kuwait on Wednesday, and echoed around the world.
"Why do we soldiers have to dig through the local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?" asked Army National Guard Spc. Thomas Wilson, who is in a unit that will soon head into Iraq from Kuwait.
At one point in his response, Rumsfeld sounded almost dismissive. "As you know, you go to war with the Army you have," he said.
But on Thursday, President Bush said if he were headed into combat, he'd ask the same question. "The concerns expressed are being addressed, and that is we expect our troops to have the best possible equipment," Bush said.
But as of Friday, only about one-third of the military's Humvees in Iraq are fully armored.
When American troops first took Baghdad, only U.S. military police had the fully armored vehicles.
But when the insurgents turned up their attacks with roadside bombs and Americans started taking heavy casualties, Congress came up with additional funds to increase production of the heavily armored vehicles.
NBC’s Jeannie Ohm and Jim Miklaszewski contributed to this report.