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SBCT Up-Armor Evolution

Support units in Iraq have found that they need to provide added protection
to their vehicles. The first SBCT’s support battalion began this process before it deployed and continued to modify its vehicles’ up-armor design
to counter threats to their troops throughout its time in Iraq.

Before we deployed from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Operation Iraqi Freedom in November 2003, the 296th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) of the 3d Brigade, 2d Infantry Division—the first Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT)—learned about improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and some of the hostile forces tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) that we might encounter. We started looking for ways to protect our BSB soldiers from IEDs on the roads of Iraq, concentrating on hardening vehicles with sandbags after we arrived in Kuwait.

Mad Attakai

At Forward Operating Base (FOB) Pacesetter near Samarra, Iraq, we learned from other units the basic requirements for IED protection and began experimenting with different up-armor configurations. The brigade S–4 procured about 1,000 sheets of steel for configuring armor for two- and four-door high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs) to protect the soldiers from drive-by shootings and IEDs. With the sandbags that we installed before departing Camp Udairi, Kuwait, we felt the HMMWVs had sufficient protection.

At that time, we only had one welder, Specialist Lyle Attakai, who worked day and night cutting and fitting the design that would come to be known as the “Mad Attakai” up-armor special because it resembled one of the heavily armored vehicles in the Mad Max movie series. The Mad Attakai armor designs became in demand throughout the brigade.

The only shortcoming of these designs was that they did not provide protection from the weather. In the desert, we did not expect rain to be a factor. However, we were wrong. We arrived in country at the beginning of the winter months, and it was cold and rainy at times as we conducted operations near Samarra and in Mosul.

We spent about 45 days at FOB Pacesetter before moving north to Mosul to replace the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). During those 45 days, our welder up-armored as many of the unit’s vehicles as he could. We took all unused steel with us to Mosul so he could complete the up-armoring. Not all vehicles were up-armored before leaving FOB Pacesetter, but the vehicles without armor used sandbags for protection as the brigade moved north.

Kevlar blankets, which also can be used to help provide protection, were slow to arrive during the initial stages of our deployment. It took from 30 to 40 days to receive supplies ordered from the continental United States.

When the 101st Airborne Division redeployed to Kuwait, all of its up-armor materials were returned to us in Mosul. We also received TARDEC kits (up-armor kits developed by the Tank and Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center) for two- or four-door HMMWVs, and we continued to modify our original “Mad Attakai” design. As the hostile forces changed or modified their TTPs, we revised our up-armor requirements.

Expanded Requirements

Once we arrived in Mosul, the 296th BSB’s Forward Maintenance Company’s requirement to up-armor HMMWVs broadened to include up-armoring heavy, expanded mobility tactical trucks (HEMMTs) and medium tactical vehicles (MTVs). Local nationals helped our small welding crew with the cutting, fitting, and mounting of all the up-armor on the vehicles. This significantly increased our production.

The HEMMT load-handling systems and wreckers were our primary concern since these were the 296th BSB’s primary vehicles for resupplying, recovering, and supporting the SBCT. HEMMT drivers and passengers did not think they had enough protection with the original up-armor design, so our welders worked to improve the design used to armor these vehicles. Visible external armor provided double protection—by hardening the vehicle and by discouraging attack by enemies who saw that the vehicle was armored.

Hostile Forces’ TTP

Some of the hostile forces’ TTPs included the use of ground-level IEDs, height-elevated IEDs, and daisy-chained mortars. The IEDs often are detonated remotely and accompanied by small arms attacks. Protection from these devices required a modification of the original “Mad Attakai” design. The new design provided a more comprehensive defense against IEDs or small arms attacks.

Next, we looked at a way to protect the gunner in the back of our gun-truck HMMWVs. Once we received pedestal mounts that would allow us to position M249 machineguns on swivels, our welders designed a template for steel up-armor to be mounted around the rear area of our HMMWVs. In addition to protecting the gunners, this armor helped prevent the pedestal gunners from falling out of the vehicle.

Up-armoring the 296th BSB’s vehicles in Iraq was a learning process. It required flexibility and creativity. We learned that all vehicles on the road should have visible up-armor to deter attack and that passengers must be alert and focused on their surroundings. ALOG

Captain Daniel P. Fresh is the Commander of the Forward Maintenance Company, 296th Brigade Support Battalion, 3d Brigade, 2d Infantry Division, at Fort Lewis, Washington. He has a B.A. degree in history from Southeastern Louisiana University and is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, and the combined Arms and Services Staff School.