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WASHINGTON — Army vehicles in Iraq could have been given armor upgrades quicker if officials had better long-term plans and better contract management skills, researchers at the Government Accountability Office found last week.

Instead, their report found, those inefficiencies and mistakes by the Army delayed installation of many of the armor kits by more than a year. That delay placed troops “at greater risk as they conducted wartime operations in vehicles that were not equipped with the preferred level of protection.”

The GAO found that the Army decided in November 2003 troops would need at least 3,780 truck armor kits to upgrade lightly protected vehicles in Iraq.

Those kits weren’t delivered until 2005, and they weren’t all installed until 18 months after the need was identified.

The report criticizes the Army for failing to anticipate the need for the better-armored vehicles, noting that the service was authorized to develop and order kits as far back as 1996.

Other spending priorities pushed aside those plans, which left the vehicles under-equipped when the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan began, researchers said.

The report also said that the armor kits would have arrived sooner if the Army’s contract awarding process was more efficient. Instead of asking for the entire lot of needed kits at once — “a way that maximized production rates” — the service awarded a series of smaller contracts, which delayed both funding and production.

The agency recommended the Army establish a process to track and speed up all wartime funding needs, to better streamline the process of fielding equipment to troops.

In a written response to the report, Department of Defense officials agreed with the recommendation but said the Army’s updated funding processes have already addressed the problem.

An Army spokesman who declined to be identified said the service met its goal of having kits installed on all vehicles except fuel tankers by the end of January. Currently, the Army has 11,961 up-armored Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan and another 25,975 Level II armored wheeled vehicles.

He said the tanker armoring “has not proceeded as fast as hoped,” but new facilities will soon be available to help the Army reach its goal of armoring those tankers by January 2007.

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