ARLINGTON, Va. — With funding secured and contracting processes completed, the Army is starting to move ever-larger quantities of both armoring kits and newly built armored Humvees into Iraq, Army officials said.

There are now more than 2,000 up-armored Humvees “in theater” in Southwest Asia, which includes Afghanistan and Iraq, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker told the House Armed Services Committee in testimony on Wednesday.

Maj. Gary Tallman, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, did not have precise numbers for Iraq, but noted that most of the armored vehicles are there, rather than supporting the more limited Afghanistan mission.

The latest number represents an increase since Sept. 30, when Gen. John Keane, the Army’s vice chief of staff, told Congress there were about 800 armored Humvees in Iraq.

Humvee maker American Motors General is building a new factory specifically for up-armored Humvees that is nearly completed, Tallman said.

By spring, the manufacturer will be producing at “the maximum rate of 220” armored Humvees per month, he said.

In addition to new vehicles, the Army also has contracts to purchase 6,000 armor kits that can be installed by soldier mechanics in Iraq, Tallman said.

The kits are destined to upgrade not only many of the 8,000 conventional Humvees now in Iraq, but other vehicles as well, such as heavy transports and trucks used in convoy operations, he said.

The armor kits don’t substitute for a fully armored vehicle, Tallman said, “but it’s something we can do right now.”

About 200 of the kits have been shipped to Iraq so far, and more are being shipped as soon as they are built, he said. The Army is testing kits from a number of manufacturers who hope to sell their version to the service.

Up-armored Humvees featured heavily armored skins, including reinforcement on the undercarriage to protect against mine explosions, and bullet-resistant windshields. The heavy armor requires reinforced suspension systems and upgraded engines and power trains.

Last May, there were just 235 up-armored Humvees in Iraq, because U.S. war planners had decided that tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles would be more crucial.

But when warfighting operations morphed into peacekeeping and battles became operations against guerrilla tactics, U.S. casualties began to rise.

Today, the Army has defined a 4,000-vehicle requirement for armored Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan — 3,200 for Iraq alone, Tallman said.

But that could take a while — as late as “the summer of ’05 before we would have them all,” Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee told Senate Armed Services Committee members in November.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., told Brownlee at the hearing to make armored Humvees a top priority in Iraq.

“I don’t think we can accept an ’05 deadline,” Warner said.

Brownlee said the Army officials agreed, which was why they were planning to send the armor kits.

In the fall, Congress earmarked sufficient funds to pay for both new up-armored Humvees and armor kits to modify existing vehicles in the 2003 defense supplemental, which included $177 million in Humvee money.

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