There have been many stories in the news about the inadequacies of the Humvee as a fighting vehicle in Iraq, complete with tearful stories about soldiers killed in IED attacks. In 2004, the issue of inadequate armor was used as a club to beat Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the head. The fact of the matter is that many, many soldier did in fact die in IED attacks on Humvees. That doesn’t mean the Humvee is a bad truck. What it means is that he Humvee is being used in a role for which it was never really intended.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Army’s fleet of light wheeled vehicles was tired and obselete. The most famous of these was the jeep, which had evolved from it’s WWII beginnings into the M151 Ford MUTT (Multi Use Tactical Truck). The jeep was known as a 1/4 ton truck, that is, it could carry a payload of 500 pounds.


Slightly larger was a collection of 3/4 ton and 1-1/4 ton trucks. Some were off the shelf purchases of Chevy Blazers and pick-ups.


Other trucks included the 1-1/4 ton M561 Gamma Goat. This was the loudest, most uncomfortable riding truck around.


None of these trucks had the combination of durability and off road capability in a lightweight package that the Army was seeking. In the late 70s the leading contender to replace the jeep was at one point actually a Lambroghini. How cool would that have been?

cheetahspecbAs it turned out, AM General, then a division of American Motors (who gave us classics like the Gremlin and the Pacer!) developed what the Army called the “High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle” or HUMMWV. Now, HUMMWV is hard to pronounce so everyone calls them Humvees. Yes, the civilian version is called a Hummer, but few if any people in the Army call them that. The basic design is a four wheel drive, four wheel independent double wishbone suspension 1-1/4 ton truck with a 6.2 liter engine. The design was intended to fill a number of roles by adding components to the baseline vehicle.


Most of the trucks were intended for logistical or command roles. As an example, the CO of a Mechanized Infantry company can’t go everywhere in his M-113 or Bradley. Sometimes, all he needs is  a truck. So, in addition to his fighting vehicle, he has a Humvee.


Similarly, the First Sergeant, in his role as the chief logistician for an Infantry company has a truck as well. His is tailored more to hauling troops and supplies.


At the same time, other models were intended to be used as ambulances and carriers for the TOW missile system.


These vehicles had Kevlar armor, but that was intended to  stop the odd stray fragment, not withstand a dedicated attack. In fact, it wasn’t until the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 that the Army started to condsider that there was a good chance a lot of its fights in the future would be against insurgent type forces and in urban areas at that. The Humvees in Mogadishu had suffered badly under rifle, machine gun and RPG fire. Most of the crews fared reasonably well, but the trucks were a mess and the Army knew it could do better. It soon contracted with AM General for up-armored versions that would provide better protection against small arms fire. Soon, limited numbers of these trucks were in production. But the improvements came at a cost- increased weight. All that armor weighs a lot. It decreases the speed and agility of the truck. It also puts a huge strain on the drivetrain. Breakdowns are more common. The trucks center of gravity rises and it becomes more likely to roll over. Still, a small number of these up-armored Humvees were used in the Balkans in the 90s and were available for use in Iraq. So from a lightweight pickup truck, the Humvee, now mounting a plethora of machine guns, was suddenly the prime vehicle for patrolling and fighting in urban centers like Baghdad.


One threat that Army hadn’t given enough consideration to was the IED or improvised explosive device. While the armor on an up-armored Humvee was enough to mitigate the effects of most roadside IEDs, the truck just couldn’t withstand the blast of an IED buried in the road or an anti-tank mine. There really isn’t a whole lot that can be done to improve the Humvee against mines. The design of the vehicle just doesn’t have that much room for growth left. Armor has been added to the floors and some work has been done to mitigate the effects of blast, but the fact remains that as fast as you can armor a vehicle, the enemy can use bigger mines. The current state of the art in Humvees is the M1151.  Virtually all Humvees used in Iraq today for patrols are either the original up-armored M1114 series or the M1151 series of trucks. They provide protection against small arms fire and some protection against RPGs and IEDs. But they are by no means main battle tanks. If you want a tank’s level of protection, you end up building a tank.


By now, some of you are saying to yourselves, “But what about MRAPs?” Well, yes, the Army and Marines have both bought a bunch of MRAPs. MRAP stands for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle. They are based on a design originally from South Africa. They are more resistant to mines, and have good protection against small arms, but  that comes with a price. The MRAP is a much larger vehicle. Many drivers complain that they cannot move the MRAPs through the small alleys and tight lanes in a city the way they could with a Humvee. They are even more prone to rollover than a Humvee. So while there is a place for them, they aren’t the ultimate Humvee replacement.

gr_pr_071112mrapThe Army is still trying to find a good vehicle that combines the protection of an MRAP with the light weight and agility of a Humvee. But the problem will remain that every time you come up with better armor, the enemy will use a bigger warhead. The ultimate answer won’t be technology alone. It never is. It will still take brave young soldiers working in an incredibly difficult environment using their training and their initiative to win wars.

21 thoughts on “Humvee”

  1. I am reminded of the controversy over the adoption of the Bradly IFV. “It won’t stand up to other tanks!” Well, that there is a brilliant observation. Tanks are armed heavily enough to kill other tanks. And an IFV is NOT a tank. So yeah, a Bradly is in trouble if a tank is trying to kill it. The problem is, the geniuses who objected to the Bradly’s ‘insufficient’ armor didn’t seem to grasp that it wasn’t MEANT to be a tank. Tracks do not a tank make.

    Complaining that a screwdriver is a poor hammer is dumb. Of COURSE it’s a bad hammer, it wasn’t MEANT to be a hammer. And of COURSE a HMMWV is vulnerable to mines and IEDs. It wasn’t MEANT to be a tank. It’s a truck. Expecting it to resist a mine is stupid. Armoring it to the point it CAN resist a mine is also an exercise in futility, because all you have at that point is a slow, lumbering vehicle that’s great for setting off mines, but terrible for all the missions the HMMWV is INTENDED to perform.

    The problem, of course, is that the average American taxpayer doesn’t understand that. All they know is American soldiers are dying from IEDs and “something must be done”. But history has pretty much shown that quick fixes to “do something” about a problem, never seem to solve them.

    1. Yeah..Because a 30-40mm(Which ever is mounted on the vehicle engaged) is going to have trouble piercing the armor. No tank today or probably ever stand up to armor penetrating round of that size and larger.

  2. Seems like you really do want a tank. A very light manoeuvrable tank with good visibility.

    Really in some ways i think of the core problem with defence is the protection costs a great deal more (not just in dollars but think also mobility etc) than the improved attack to defeat that defence. And attack can be a better defence.

    If we think here of attack in the form of ‘winning hearts and minds’ in the surge compared to the hunker down before that I think it’s fair to say there’s a point, of not sure exactly where, that too much defence is ineffective.

  3. Seems like you really do want a tank. A very light manoeuvrable tank with good visibility.

    They exist. But they can’t take a mine hit. Remember, they design anti-tank mines to kill a T-80 or M1 Abrams. If it can kill one of those, nothing lighter or more maneuverable will survive it either.

    Brad points this out. As soon as you adjust your defensive capabilities for the current threat, there’s a bigger mine out there waiting to be used.

  4. Check out their cammo. They have MOLLE type vests. I heard a nasty rumor on the internets that their 5.8mm heavy round defeats our vests and SAPI plates (even the new ones).

  5. I wouldn’t be surprised if the round does penetrate. One of the reasons the M855 round was adopted for the M-16A2/M249 was its ability to penetrate Soviet body armor.

  6. Isn’t there an outfit out of New Orleans that makes a wheeled armored car/apc (NOT the Stryker) that has all the mobility and fire-power you want and a MUCH higher survivability rate? I think the Marines and some Army units use them. Made by Gen Techron?????

  7. They are here at Fort Bliss. MP units use them. They are 6X6. they are STILL not heavy enough. The problem is trading armor, speed, range, or firepower.

    The HMMWV replacement, the Joint Light Tac. vehicle (JTLV) has more armor yet is light enough to do the HUMMWV’s job.

    uparmoring is allways an option in theather, but the army would love to have them start with more armor.

  8. chockblock:

    It all comes back to me now. Those things were made by a unit of Textron “on spec” w.o. any Army requirement put out. Marines loved ’em but the Army had a masssive NIH syndrome reaction and fought them tooth and nail. Congress forced the Army to take some and somehow some made it to Iraq where local commanders and troops liked them so much they asked for more–but the big kids in the Army are dragging their heels every step of the way.

    The advantage they had in survivability (relatively speaking) was their clam-shell shape with v-shaped hull design which not only deflected blasts from land mines more effectively, but RPGs, etc., fired against the side of the hull which is sloped/raked pretty much all around above and below mid-line “lip” as I remember. Of course it’s not a “big fucker” like the MRAP, but it has a better survivability rate in combat than the Bradley or Stryker as I remember–and more maneuverable to boot. And with wheels, the maintenance nightmare of using tracs constantly on hwys is avoided.

    But I could be all wet, I’m just an ex-zoomie, so what do I know?

  9. Virgil

    The MPs that had them hated them…cramped, hard to get in and out of, difficult to serve the weapons.

    The referred to them a partisan resupply points because the MPs believed that any convoy guarded by them would get knocked off by aprtisans and then the partisans could get all the ammo out of the MP vehicles that they wanted.

  10. I’m in Iraq,now 1151 uparmor humvee is marginally okay.
    was here for the invasion, had no armor on my humvee and the IED’s were smaller. The enemy will adapt just as fast as we do. The problem for the uparmor and MRAP is they are designed for convoy security in mind. One gun position everyone else is a passanger.
    I have a few thousand hours in 1151 and the International version of the MRAP. Give me the uparmored 1151 any day. It is not perfect, but has better mobility,smaller ( ie better in narrow streets and rural donkey paths)
    The best fighting vic I have come across is one made by Israel designed for urban patrolling. Think armored humvee with an armored truck bed. 1 belt fed machinegun on each corner of the bed. Net system over the bed to hinder grenade and sniper attacks.
    No it won’t stop anti tank mines, nothing will but it does have the boat shape hull to turn blast away from vic.
    It has mobility, 4 Mark I eyeballs behind the machine guns, enough armor to stop most small arms, able to travel through narrow streets, and some blast protection. Sorry I do not remember the name of the truck.
    Toss an RPG cage on it and it would be my dream combat/patrol vic. Although the stryker would be a very near second. Still needs more soldiers facing out with a weapon pointed the same way. Don’t believe the propaganda the soldier is the weapon the equipment is the tool.
    IMHO…………but the right tool for the job makes the job so much easier.

  11. What a brilliant reply. Plato had one for you, “only the dead have seen the end of war.”

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