By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
July 2, 2007 – The Defense Department is taking unprecedented steps to get Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to deployed troops as quickly as possible - from fast-tracking the acquisition process to airlifting models as they roll off the assembly line. Marine Corps Systems Command flew a shipment of MRAPs to the theater this past weekend to cut the normal transit time, Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told Pentagon reporters today. Marine Corps officials would not divulge details about how many vehicles were shipped, or specifically where they were destined to go, citing security concerns.
The delivery occurred just days after the Defense Department's Joint Requirements Oversight Council endorsed procuring as many MRAPs as industry can provide in fiscal 2008. The top-level panel, which validates military requirements, recommended evaluating the situation in Iraq periodically and adjusting the acquisition plan based on the need.
The JROC recommendation tracks with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' efforts to expedite MRAP fielding. Impressed by the Marine Corps' success in reducing casualties due to roadside bombs and other explosives, Gates declared the MRAP acquisition effort a top priority and formed a task force to move it forward.
"What is clear is that the department is embarking on an aggressive acquisition strategy to put as many of these armored vehicles into the field as fast as possible," Whitman said.
Defense Department and military services are reaching out to industry to "incentivize" companies to boost production while reducing the production timetable, Whitman said.
Force Protection Industries, which delivered the MRAPs what were airlifted the weekend, reported that its factory in Charleston, S.C., is hiring dozens of new employees every week to churn out the vehicles "as fast as humanly possible."
Another MRAP manufacturer, General Dynamics Land Systems announced last week that it had delivered its first MRAPs to the Marine Corps less than 120 days after getting its first production order.
"The companies that have been awarded the contracts are ramping up their production capabilities," Gates told reporters during a June 29 news conference. "I am pressing them very hard to see where they can cut the time scale as well as increase their production."
The goal, Whitman said, is to bridge the gap in the level of protection offered by up-armored Humvees and more heavily armored vehicles such as M2 Bradley fighting vehicles and M1 Abrams tanks. MRAPs, with their raised, V-shaped underbellies, deflect the force of improvised explosive devices and other blasts from below.
Whitman emphasized that MRAPs aren't likely to replace all Humvees.
"Typically, what a commander will do is pick the tools that are best for the mission he is about to go out and do," Whitman said. "There are times when a particular vehicle makes sense for a particular type of mission, but not necessarily for another."
Commanders will assess, among other factors, whether their troops were mounted or dismounted and how much mobility and protection they needed during a particular operation, he said.
Ultimately, Whitman said there is no "one solution fits all" answer to protecting troops from roadside bombs and other explosives. "You could go all the way up on the high end of armored protection, but everybody in body armor and M1 tanks, but it could be very constrictive in your ability to accomplish your mission," he said.
Even as MRAPs are hurried to the theater, private industry is busy working on improving on the models that will replace them.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, praised these efforts during the June 29 news conference. "One of the main reasons that we have the world's best military is because we have the world's best industry to back it up," he said. "We have got incredible patriots in our defense industries who are working very hard side by side with us to figure out the solution to these problems."
That technological know-how and patriotism are coming together to produce the best MRAP vehicles possible, Pace told reporters. "So as the MRAP comes on line, there's no doubt in my mind that as that's being produced, that other people in our industry are out looking for the thing that's going to replace the MRAP, because it's an evolutionary process," he said.