Son of Jeep Makes Big Splash With Desert Troops With PM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt
IN EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA (AP) _ Forget the M1A1 main battle tank, the hi-tech Apache anti-tank attack helicopter, the fancy AWACs air control systems and laser-guided artillery shells.
Outside of a water bottle, the signature piece of equipment for Operation Desert Shield is an ugly, boxy contraption with a jaw-breaking name: high utility, multipurpose wheeled vehicle.
Officially, the Army calls it the M998 cargo-troop carrier. Service members call it the HUMVEE, also known as the son of jeep or a jeep on steroids, because it is faster, stronger, safer and more versatile than its ancestor, the Willys jeep.
A cross between a fat car and a squat truck, it churns through desert sand dunes almost as easily as it scoots down highways. President Bush ate Thanksgiving turkey on the hood of one.
The machine gets universal raves in the motor pools.
″HUMVEEs are the best vehicle ever made,″ said Chief Warrant Officer Michael Sunderhaus, 32, of Cincinnati, who serves with the Army’s 226th Maintenance Co. ″I love that thing. It goes anywhere. I have not seen anything yet that can stop it.″
Staff Sgt. Daniel Diaz, 31, of Cucamonga, Calif., paid it the ultimate compliment: ″We always fight over who gets to drive it.″
In 1985, the Army switched to HUMVEEs from jeeps, the venerable rattletrap that earned its stripes in World War II.
The HUMVEE offers four-wheel drive, independent suspension, power-steering, a low profile and 16 inches of clearance. It climbs a 60 percent grade, is almost impossible to overturn and runs in ice, mud, snow and, of course, sand.
It has five basic models: cargo or troop carrier, TOW missile or machine gun carrier, ambulance, shelter carrier and light artillery prime mover. The models can be configured 15 ways.
Desert Shield is its largest deployment, but the HUMVEE was battle tested a year ago in Panama. One infantry commander with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division became an instant fan because HUMVEEs go even when their tires are flat, thanks to magnesium doughnuts inside the tires.
″All four tires were shot out, (but) able to drive another two plus miles to safety - awesome vehicle. Saved the six soldiers riding in it,″ wrote the commander following an ambush. The commander’s name was not released.
His letter was passed on to the manufacturer, AM General Division of LTV Missiles and Electronics Group.
The average price for a HUMVEE is $28,000, and the U.S. military has bought 78,000 so far, according to its manufacturer.
The HUMVEE is one of the most popular military exports, in as much demand as AWACs and cruise missiles.
It has already been shipped to 18 countries, including Luxembourg, Djibouti, Abu Dhabi, Thailand and Saudi Arabia. China has five to haul oil exploration equipment in the desert.
There’s even one in Baghdad. The Middle East salesman for AM General was in Iraq on Aug. 2 with a demo model, and he escaped to Jordan without his HUMVEE after the invasion of Kuwait.
″As far as I know, it’s still there,″ said Craig MacNab, spokesman for AM General.
HUMVEEs have been sold to non-military customers. Three were bought by the U.S. Forest Service, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources purchased one as a go-anywhere fire truck.
To meet demand, a civilian model may be available some day, MacNab said.
″We’re looking at it. We’re moving that way,″ he said.
Meanwhile, the HUMVEE has become the desert workhorse.
″Looks be damned. How it looks is part of its attractiveness,″ said Army Capt. Mike Wilber, 37, of Fort Carson, Colo. ″It’s the right vehicle in the right place at the right time.″