July 2, 2007 in Nation/World

Pentagon backs safer vehicles for troops

Tom Vanden Brook USA TODAY
 

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has approved an Army recommendation for a seven-fold increase in production of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to protect soldiers from makeshift bombs in Iraq.

The decision late last week to build as many as 17,770 MRAPs for the Army comes after Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the vehicle the Pentagon’s top priority. The MRAP’s V-shaped hull and raised chassis are up to four times safer against the top threat to U.S. troops in Iraq – improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

In a June 28 letter to Gates, Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Kit Bond, R-Mo., said MRAPs could have saved as many as 742 U.S. troops if they had been deployed when the Marines in Iraq’s restive Anbar province filed an urgent request for 1,169 of the vehicles in February 2005.

Gates said Friday he was pushing industry and the military to build MRAPs faster: “For every month we delay, scores of young Americans are going to die.”

The Joint Requirement Oversight Council, a group of top Pentagon officers, accepted the Army’s recommendation to make a “one-for-one” swap of MRAPs for armored Humvees in most cases, said Col. Steve Sliwa, chief of the Army’s future war-fighting capabilities division. That recommendation followed a visit to Iraq by a high-level Army team to assess soldiers’ needs and which vehicles would best fill them.

“We’re going to aggressively pursue maxing out production, definitely for ‘08,” Sliwa said. “We’re extensively testing the vehicle to ensure the soldier’s very well protected.”

Friday’s decision boosts the Army’s MRAP total from the 2,500 the service had originally sought and the Pentagon’s total commitment to almost 23,000 vehicles. That includes 3,700 for the Marines and 1,500 for other branches of the military.

The Pentagon’s decision to build more MRAPs may encounter opposition from Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who leads the committee that writes the defense budget. He said he wouldn’t support more than $6 billion in MRAP spending for next year because contractors can’t build the vehicles fast enough.

The Army’s bill for MRAPs next year would be $8.1 billion, according to a memo from Acting Secretary of the Army Pete Geren.

To meet the increased demand, the Pentagon awarded contracts to nine companies in January to develop and build vehicles for consideration for its MRAP program. Since April 23, the Pentagon has awarded contracts worth about $1.6 billion to three companies to build 3,130 MRAPs, records show.

Last week, Australian television reported that Thales Australia would make 1,500 MRAPs for the Pentagon.


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