Corrected March 22 | After years of lobbying and stalled legislative efforts, appropriators set aside funds in the newly enacted $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package to equip aging military vehicles with technology that experts say will make them safer.
The law includes $183 million for the Army to install anti-lock brake systems with electronic stability control kits on some of the service's Humvees, top-heavy vehicles widely used by the Army that are prone to rollovers and have been linked to dozens of accidental deaths.
The funding, which vastly exceeds the Army's budget request of $10.5 million for the kits, will be used to retrofit as many aging Humvees as possible during this fiscal year. But it will likely not be enough to upgrade the Army’s entire fleet of about 50,000 legacy vehicles, House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee Chairman Donald Norcross, D-N.J., said in an interview.
Still, the inclusion of the funding is a victory for military vehicle safety advocates.
A similar effort to include funding for the kits in the fiscal 2021 budget was scrapped by now-retired Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Peter J. Visclosky, D-Ind.
Instead, appropriators included in that year's appropriations bill $200 million for new Humvees, which include the latest safety technology. Those new Humvees were produced by Indiana-based defense contractor AM General.
Authorizers banded together last year to ensure that appropriators fully funded the fiscal 2022 budget request for the safety kits.
Norcross, along with House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee Chairman John Garamendi, D-Calif., Texas Republican Pat Fallon and Missouri Republican Vicky Hartzler, sent a letter to appropriators asking them to ensure that all $183 million of funding was included in the final measure. The contents of the letter were described to CQ Roll Call, and its existence confirmed, by Norcross.
“We see the deaths. We see the heartbroken parents who have lost a child, and it just reconfirms that what we’re doing [with these kits] is the right thing,” Norcross said.
The new funding comes amid an increase in vehicle-related military deaths during training.
On Saturday, a Humvee rolled during a training exercise at Joint Base Cape Cod, according to Hyannis News. All four occupants were hospitalized and the damage to the vehicle was “severe.”
A July 2020 report by the Congressional Research Service found that over 31 percent of U.S. active-duty military deaths since 2006 were the result of noncombat-related accidents. Of those, 16 percent involved vehicles.
Between 2015 and 2018, the Army reported a total of 14 rollover fatalities. In 2019 alone, there were eight. And other services have seen similar spikes. Four Marines died in vehicle rollovers during training in 2019.
And in July 2021, the GAO found that a lack of adequate driver training and a failure to implement safety practices were the most common causes of Army and Marine Corps vehicle rollovers over the last decade.
“There have been more than 150 service members killed and hundreds more injured in accidents due to [Humvee] roll overs. It is imperative that the Army have the necessary resources to ensure this no longer happens,” Texas Republican Pat Fallon said in an emailed statement.
Despite the funding for safety kits, the money can only be used during fiscal 2022. If the Army cannot retrofit all of its legacy vehicles before the funding expires — and retrofitting one vehicle takes about 125 people roughly 40 hours — authorizers may be in for another legislative battle when it comes time to negotiate next year’s budget.
“If it comes up as a fight again this year, then I will fight it again this year,” Norcross said.
This report has been corrected to reflect the number of legacy Humvees.