June 13, 2006 -- Protecting Humvees from attack in Iraq has inadvertently created the potential for another dangerous threat to U.S. troops there -- fatal rollover accidents.
In a story first reported by the Dayton Daily News, Army statistics show that adding thousands of pounds of armor plating to protect military Humvees in Iraq has made the vehicles more likely to roll over in fatal accidents.
The newspaper's analysis of Army statistics found that up-armored M-114 Humvees are much more likely to be involved in rollovers than those without armor. According to the statistics cited in the story, 60 of 85 soldiers who died in Humvee accidents in Iraq were in up-armored Humvees. Among the injured, 149 of 337 were riding in up-armored Humvees. The Army's statistics take into account accidents that occurred between March 2003 and November 2005.
The Army said that as recently as February there were 30,000 Humvees in the Iraq theater. There have been 71 rollover accidents.
Upgrading Safety, Training Programs
Recognizing the new dangers in protecting the vehicles, Army officials have instituted training programs and safety upgrades to the vehicles to prevent accidents.
The safety upgrades include improved seat-restraint belts and a fire-suppression system. The improvement in seat restraints for gunners who ride atop Humvees is most important because the Daily News analysis found gunners were killed in at least 27 of the 93 fatal Humvee accidents since 2001.
In Kuwait, troops bound for Iraq receive training on how to exit an overturned vehicle. The tractor-trailer-mounted trainers -- called Humvee Egress Assistance Trainers, or HEAT -- travel from unit to unit to prepare soldiers for any potential rollover accident.
The trailers consist of three Humvee chasses mounted onto the turrets of M1-A1 tanks, which are mounted onto the tractor trailers. Army officials believe the HEAT trainers provide soldiers with the necessary experience to survive a rollover.
More Weight, More Skidding
The Army has also partnered with Humvee manufacturer General Motors to provide training in Iraq to soldiers so they can avoid skidding and thereby help reduce rollovers. (Up-armored Humvees are more prone to skid out of control than nonarmored Humvees.) The skidding can lead to fishtailing and eventual rollovers.
According to an Army fact sheet, "while the armored HMMWV (Humvee) is an inherently stable vehicle, increased mission payload, evolving threats in theater and armor protection place added demands on the vehicle."
Army officials stress that despite the increase in operations since 2002, the number of accidents has remained steady over that same time period.
Despite that, a 28-page "smart card" on preventing Humvee rollovers concludes with a final warning about the rollover risk: "At Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) rapid steering action at speeds as low as 40 mph increase your likelihood of a rollover. GVW is an unloaded M114 plus 4 crew with basic gear."