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MRAPs Settle In - And Head to the Field

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Over the last two days, the Pentagon has presented a detailed plan to the public on how it intends to equip troops in Iraq with Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. As many DT readers know, the MRAP debate is a hot topic on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers try to earn their support the troops stripes by thundering headlong into a massive replacement program of the Humvee with the MRAP.

Fortunately though Pentagon chief Robert Gates claims the MRAP program is his highest priority cooler heads have prevailed at the DoD over the fielding and use of the MRAP. The Pentagons top R&D official, John Young, explained that the Joint Requirements Oversight Council had finally gotten its arms around the fielding plan and decided to hold off replacing every single Humvee in the entire fleet with MRAPS which could have questionable utility in another combat environment.

The Congress has clearly leaned forward to help us on this program. Through the end of June, the Defense Department used those funds to order 3,765 MRAPs. Approximately 2,400 of these MRAPs under contract as of the end of June are expected to deliver by 31 December of 2007. Yesterday, we asked the Congress to approve the reprogramming of an additional $1.2 billion into the program.

With all of the funds the Congress has provided and the reprogramming of an additional $1.2 billion into the MRAP program, the Defense Department, as Geoff said, can now purchase an additional 2,650 MRAPs, increasing our total on order to 6,415.

All of the 6,415 will deliver by March of 2008. Under this acceleration, DOD expects to receive an additional 1,500 MRAPs by 31 December, a 63 percent increase over that 2,400 I've told you about to a total of 3,900 MRAPs delivered from industry to the Defense Department by December, December 31st. The reprogramming is urgent because, as you all can see, the rates of production are ramping significantly. We believe 30 to 45 vehicles per day will slip into 2008 if we delay.

Under our MRAP acceleration plan, the rate of MRAP production will rise from June's production of 82 vehicles to 489 vehicles in October and roughly 1,300 per month in December that I mentioned to you earlier. So as you can see, it is important that we work with the Congress quickly to get these funds for the additional MRAPs and put these vehicles under contract. The use of available funds for the department and the reprogramming action will give the MRAP Joint Program Office $5.4 billion to immediately put on contract in 2007 for MRAPs. The level -- this level of funding makes MRAP the 3rd largest 2007 DOD acquisition program, only behind missile defense and Joint Strike Fighter.

Though Young is pushing to produce vehicles as quickly and smartly as he can, he and the JROC recognize that the MRAP is not the magic force field many seem to think it is. And it is not a replacement for the Humvee, says the Corps top money guy, Lt. Gen. John Castellaw, whos service is only buying around 4,000 of the massive trucks...

But I've got to tell you, you know, operational requirements still trump the -- the up-armored HUMVEE will not go away. There will be operational reasons that we will want to use it in addition to the MRAP. So what this does is gives us a very important element in our operational tool bag that we'll be using along with a lot of others to ensure that our forces are protected the best they can, and also, as importantly, that they can do the job that we're asking them to do.

And Young adds

I mean, that gets to be a tough issue about which areas really need MRAPs. I think you heard General Castellaw say up-armored HUMVEES are very effective in many areas in-theater. They're going to continue to be used. MRAPs need to go in the priority places first.

You know, this is a delicate balancing act, and I apologize. It's hard to have this discussion with you. But I'd go back to the comment I made earlier too of -- a very small fraction of attacks are underbody, underbelly IEDs, and then an even smaller fraction are EFPs right now. That may change over time. That will lead us to make adjustments.

Some of those adjustments are tactics as well as vehicles. Because a key point of this is if we're trying to protect our soldiers and Marines at the point where they IED went off, we're late. We're going to do that, because MRAP -- and MRAPs help with that significantly, and we are making that our highest priority.

But we have a number of other efforts and significant dollars going into trying to stop that IED from ever being planted, to stop it from ever being built, to stop the people that are deciding to build and plant those IEDs. And that's where a significantly greater chance of success exists to stop all those pieces of the chain. We're going to take this step because we can't afford to lose people once the detonation goes off. But we will be far more successful if we can stop the detonation from ever occurring.

And thank goodness the Pentagon is keeping its eye on the ball with regard to the development on the next-generation Humvee. The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle holds great promise for increasing and tailoring protection, reducing power consumption while increasing power output, up-arming and up-armoring the militarys tactical vehicle fleet at a fraction of the weight of the MRAP.

Right now we're at -- 3,700 is our number. We got somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 plus over there now. We'll expect to have somewhere above a thousand by the end of this year, and that'll go to the units that are in the closest combat.

We are continually looking at what our future's going to be in terms of our ground mobility. We've got some assessments under way now. Surely MRAP will play a role in there. We're not exactly sure what it will be in the future. We know that such programs as JLTV will play a role. So as we continue to assist this, then we'll make resource and decisions and forward them to OSD.

And the Armys Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes adds

We recognize right now that priority is protection of soldiers and Marines in combat -- that's what MRAP is designed to do. We have some important questions that we'll have to answer: How much can we pull the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle Program forward? Can we get the combination of performance, payload and protection that all of us want in a more manageable package? None of us want a vehicle that weighs between 40,000 and 60,000 pounds. So what we'd like to do is see capability provided sooner that has more flexibility and more operational capability in a variety of spectrums as you identified.

Sober heads prevail.

-- Christian

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