reactive_montage.JPGIn 2004, there was no military technology issue as important as armor. How the Pentagon protected American troops and American vehicles became, for many, the litmus test for Defense Department leadership -- or lack thereof.Here are some of the year's wildest schemes, biggest steps, and most intense political battles over armor.PEEL-AND-STICK ARMOR IN IRAQUsually, adding to an armor to a Humvee means welding on giant steel plates. Now, U.S. forces in Iraq are starting to stick their armor on, like bumper stickers.ARMY SAYS NO TO AD-HOC ARMORU.S. soldiers have been adding jury-rigged armor to their Humvees, to toughen the vehicles up against RPGs and roadside explosives. The Army is telling its troops to cut it out.ARMORED POOCHES ON IRAQ PATROLG.I.s in Iraq may not be able to get armor for their Humvees. Their dogs, on the other hand, are well protected.ARMY REBOOTS G.I.S' TIRED FATIGUESEver since they tangled with the Red Coats, American generals have been giving their grunts more and more and more gear to lug -- from rations to radios, body armor to batteries. Now, for the first time, the Army has decided to junk the old uniforms and start from scratch.G.I.S GET ARMOR ADD-ONSA G.I.'s body armor is designed, mostly, to stop head-on attacks, or to keep a soldier from getting shot in the back. But in Iraq, insurgents aren't coming straight at the soldiers. That's why the Army and Sandia National Laboratories are rolling out new body armor add-ons, designed to shield troops' flanks and arms.SOLDIER ARMOR: STEP INTO LIQUIDArmy researchers are working on liquid body armor, to add to soldiers' bulletproof vests.interceptor_small.jpgPAYBACK, FINALLY, FOR ARMOR BUYSIt's become a disgustingly familiar scene: American troops, cornered into to paying for their own protection. Now thank God they'll finally start to get reimbursed for what they've spent.U.S. GETS EXPLOSIVE ARMOR FROM ISRAELThe U.S. Army wants to protect its Bradley fighting vehicles -- by strapping dozens of Israeli explosives to their skins.SHOOT TO PROTECTFor many soldiers in Humvees, the best defense against an RPG is to shoot the guy holding the RPG before he can let one off. But another layer of defense may be coming -- a way to blast the RPG in midair.ARMORED HUMMERS UNDERCUTWithout some extra armor, American Humvees can't stand up to the Iraqi insurgents' onslaught of rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs. "So how is the White House proposing to deal with this?" asks Slate's Eric Umanky. "By underfunding the program to armor Humvees."ARMOR LACK LEADS TO HEAVY ATTACKSRaining hell on Falluja is a tactic bursting with political danger. So why do it? The answer, according to Newhouse's David Wood, is because thin-skinned American Humvees can't handle an up-close fight.RUMMY'S SLICK SUPPLEMENTAL MOVEYou'd think it'd be a top priority for the Army, outfitting troops with new body armor, helmets, and communications gear. But the Pentagon can't seem to find the cash in its $420 billion budget to pay for the equipment.ARMOR LACK: WHO'S TO BLAME?So who's responsible for American troops still operating in Iraq without proper protection?TRUCKS STILL THIN-SKINNEDThe Hummers are protected, mostly. It's the trucks that are in trouble.G.I.S' PAYCHECKS FUND TRUCK ARMORSo the Pentagon leadership has finally recognized that they need to armor up their trucks. But they've settled on a damn peculiar way of paying for the work. They're dipping into soldiers' paychecks to do it.

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