In my recent discussion about the idea of armoring Humvees, I had the nagging feeling I had forgotten a thing or two. The first was what Mahan gently pointed out in the comments — one benefit of armoring up the Humvees is the peace of mind of the soldiers who actually have to ride around in them. Not taking into account the morale of the troops was a rather stupid thing of me to do, and I should have included it.
The second thing that I didn’t mention was what would be the logical response of the terrorists (I refuse to call them “insurgents”) to the uparmored Humvees. As I’ve said countless times before, I’m no expert on these things, I’m just a guy with way too much time to think about these things. So I set myself the task of how to successfully attack them.
The first thing that occurred to me is that, historically, in battles between weapons and armor, weapons always win in the end. We simply can’t make the Humvees invulnerable to any and all attacks. They’ll continue to be attacked, and we will continue to lose soldiers in them. That’s an ugly, but inescapable, fact.
So, as a terrorist, what do I do? My first thought is to simply make the bombs bigger. They don’t even have to be a lot bigger. While the armor may cut down on the deaths from shrapnel, there’s only so much it can do to protect the occupants from the shock and concussion of a bomb. An increase of just five to ten percent should be enough to offset any gains from armoring.
But are there other possibilities? I think so. The goal of the terrorists isn’t “use improvised explosive devices.” It’s “kill Americans.” They’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of the IEDs, but they’re not married to them. If something better came along, they’d dump the IED assembly lines and start cranking out the new devices.
And the first one that springs to mind when attacking soldiers in a slow, low-riding, shortened-range, impaired-visibility vehicle like a heavily armored Humvee would be firebombs.
Iraq has plenty of oil and gasoline, and the formula for making napalm is one of the worst-kept secrets in the world. I’d bet that more people are familiar with the basic concept than have seen Pamela Lee naked.
I can’t imagine anything closer to hell on earth than to be caught in a slow-moving, armored Humvee that’s been hit with an improvised napalm bomb. The metal of the armor would turn the inside into an oven. The napalm would melt the tires, the fuel lines, and anything else as it clung to the vehicle, and with the armor, it wouldn’t be able to get out of danger quickly.
If you think it’s bad now with our wounded veterans coming home bearing the marks of bullets and bombs, just wait until the first major burn victims show up in public. The hue and cry will be inconceivable. And the inevitable videos of burning vehicles and bodies will be broadcast 24/7 on Al Jazeera and any other network that can get it’s hands on them.
The historical arguments of protection versus speed have been played out over and over, and never has there been a satisfactory answer. It’s always a shifting balance point. And I worry about it tipping too far into the protection category here. But that’s a matter for those more knowledgable than I to decide.
(Another of my standard disclaimers: I am not endorsing any of the predictions above. They don’t represent what I wish to happen or even want to happen, but rather are the products of my pledge to always be as honest an analyst as I can possibly be, no matter how much I dislike what I have to say.)