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ARLINGTON, Va. — House Armed Services Committee members blasted the Army’s plan to outfit 824 brand-new up-armored Humvees with extra electronics before shipping them to Iraq, saying the 45- to 50-day cycle is slowing down a fielding process that has already been achingly slow.

Forty-five to 50 days is “a long time to own those vehicles [and not use them] when we’re under a policy to get every [up-armored] vehicle we can find, not just in the U.S., but in the world,” to Iraq, Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., told Army Secretary Francis Harvey at a Thursday hearing.

Instead of diverting the new Humvees to Fort Hood, Texas, for the electronic retrofit, Hunter suggested, the vehicles should be shipped as quickly as possible straight to the Middle East.

That way, soldiers can take advantage of the upgraded armor, even without the additional electronics, which mechanics can add in-theater, Hunter said.

But the Army has deemed the new electronics “necessary for the additional survivability and command and control” of Iraq-bound up-armored Humvees, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody told HASC committee members during Thursday’s hearing.

True, “armor provides a certain level of protection,” Cody said. But, he added, even the Army’s heaviest tank can be vulnerable to certain explosives.

Meanwhile, the “situational awareness” provided by the high- tech electronics “gives the soldier the knowledge to avoid an IED,” or improvised explosive device — not endure the blast, Cody said.

The system under debate is dubbed “Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below,” or FBCB2.

FBCB2 may be an awkward moniker — Cody stumbled over it repeatedly — but it is one of the modernization linchpins for both the Army and the Marine Corps.

The system fuses computer hardware and software, digital maps and displays, and wireless and satellite radio to help U.S. troops tell friend from foe. Its digital displays automatically updating every “subscriber” unit with the latest picture of the battlefield, with information on enemy forces and specific targets.

Both the Army and the Marine Corps plan to outfit most of their aircraft and field vehicles with the system over the next several years, and a number of platforms, including the Army’s new Stryker wheeled combat vehicle, already have FBCB2 installed.

In July, the Army decided to divert 824 armored Humvees coming off the assembly line in Detroit to Fort Hood, where technicians would take about 14 days to install each FBCB2, Harvey said.

Two weeks is “the least amount of time” to install the gear, compared with two months in Kuwait, Harvey said.

“Why does it take four times as long” in Kuwait? Hunter asked.

Neither Cody nor Harvey had an answer.

“Clearly when all is said and done, you have demonstrated [that] you want to have this [electronic] equipment,” Hunter said. “Now my recommendation is that you try to come up with some kind of a plan that could get you utilizing these [Humvees] in-theater as quickly as possible … protecting people who are deployed right now.”

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