MRAP Vehicle
U.S. Air Force airmen load a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle onto a C-5 Galaxy aircraft.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2007 - The Defense Department has let contracts for an additional 2,400 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, bringing the total number of the vehicles ordered to 8,800.

"We're going to do everything we can to get as many vehicles in theater as fast as we can," a senior Pentagon official, speaking on background, said yesterday.

The MRAP is designed to survive blasts from improvised explosive devices and armor-piercing IEDs known as improvised explosive projectiles, the main killers of American servicemembers in Iraq. The vehicles have a V-shaped hull that deflects shrapnel, providing more effective protection for servicemembers inside the vehicle. MRAPs are replacing armored Humvees.

"As we go forward, we are seeking constantly to improve the survivability of the MRAP designs," the official said.

Three firms -- International Military and Government LLC, Force Protection Industries Inc., and BAE Systems Land and Armaments LP -- will produce the 2,400 new MRAP vehicles.

The contracts are for both the Category 1 and Category 2 MRAPs. The Category 1 MRAPs are four-wheeled vehicles that carry a crew of two and four passengers. The six-wheeled Category 2 vehicles have a crew of two and can carry eight.

"These are additional orders on existing contracts," the senior official said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has called getting these vehicles to Iraq and Afghanistan the department's highest equipment priority.

At a speech before the Center for a New American Security on Oct. 15, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway spoke about the effectiveness of the vehicle. He called it the "gold standard" of force protection. "We had an incident the other day where an MRAP was hit with a 300-pound charge right under the engine," Conway said. "Now, I mention the size of the charge because we were testing them at Aberdeen (Proving Ground, Md.) against 30- and 50-pound charges.

"But a 300-pound charge went off right under the engine," he continued. "It blew the engine about 65 meters away from the vehicle, caused a complete reversal of direction on the part of the MRAP, but of the four Marines inside, the regimental commander put one on light duty for seven days and the other three continued with the patrol. So it's an amazing vehicle in terms of the protection that it gives to our people against these underbody blasts."

The program has hit high gear. Vendors are just ahead of production goals to date, and goals will become more demanding in coming months. In September, vendors produced 309 of the vehicles. This month the goal is for 419 vehicles. In November, the goal is for almost 1,000 vehicles, with December's goal set at 1,200.

In December, the Defense Department will need a further $8.2 billion from Congress to continue MRAP production, the official said. The department will order roughly 6,400 MRAPs in December to meet the current stated requirement of 15,274 MRAPs.

Vehicle production has reached a level where the department will have to manage demand for hardened and ballistic steel between MRAPs and other programs, such as Bradley and Stryker fighting vehicles, and fragmentary kit enhancements, the official said.

Separate Marine Corps and Army versions of the vehicles mean 16 variants must be equipped, tested and produced. This slows the process down, and experts are working to reduce the number of variants, he said.

Fielding the 16 different vehicle designs also increases the burdens of training, maintenance and spare parts for troops in theater.

Once built, the vehicles then must get radios and other equipment installed at the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in Charleston, S.C, the official said.

"We have to take them down to South Carolina to be outfitted with all the government equipment and so on, and then we'll get them into the theater," Gates said in a separate Pentagon news briefing yesterday.

The Defense Department is flying the vehicles to Iraq as soon as they are ready. The department can fly 360 MRAPs per month. A joint allocation board sends the vehicles to the areas they are most needed, the senior official explained.

"We are continuing to airlift them as they're produced," Gates said. "At a certain point we'll make a transition and start sending them by sea just because of the numbers that are involved."

"So I would say that the program is pretty much right on track," the secretary added.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16