By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
July 20, 2007 – The Defense Department is marshalling all resources possible to speed up the delivery of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to deployed troops as quickly as possible, defense officials told Congress yesterday. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates established the MRAP task force to push his highest-priority program and is overseeing its work closely, John Young, task force chairman, told a joint hearing of the House Armed Services Committee's Seapower and Expeditionary and Air and Land Forces subcommittees.
Gates asked Congress earlier this week for approval to shift an additional $1.2 billion from other defense programs to the MRAP effort. This would bring the department's MRAP budget for 2007 to $5.4 billion and enable it to increase its total MRAP order to 6,415 vehicles. An estimated 3,500 vehicles are expected to be in Iraq by Dec. 31.
"The reprogramming is urgent," Young told the House members yesterday. "Thirty to 45 vehicles are estimated per day to slip into 2008 if we delay."
Young described the "Herculean work" under way to support that effort. The Defense Department is compressing the normal contracting process. Testers at the Aberdeen Test Center at Aberdeen, Md., are working 24/7 to test potential vehicles.
The Defense Department is helping industry aggressively ramp up production capacity. The Defense Logistics Agency is buying enough tires and steel to avoid shortages that could delay the program, he said.
As MRAPs roll off the assembly line, a Naval Warfare System Center team in Charleston, S.C., is quickly installing the government-furnished equipment such as radios, sensors and jammers.
Then U.S. Transportation Command is flying the vehicles to Iraq, reducing the time ship delivery would take.
"This is not a business-as-usual process," Young said. "I have seen tremendous coordination, collaboration and cooperation all in an effort to achieve the goal this team shares with Secretary Gates -- urgent delivery of the maximum number of MRAPs to put this capability in the hands of our forces."
Even with these measures taken, Young said he recognizes MRAP contractors will face challenges in keeping up with demand.
"We may encounter manufacturing, spare parts and maintenance issues as we accelerate, but Secretary Gates and the entire Defense Department leadership team agree we should accept these risks in order to provide more capable vehicles to our troops as absolutely fast as possible," he said.
Despite the new capabilities the MRAPs will offer, Young emphasized that the vehicles are "not a panacea."
"The threat will adapt and adjust, and the Army and Marine Corps team will work to anticipate these steps and develop responses," Young said.
Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command and MRAP program executive officer, said the Defense Department is looking toward additional capabilities that could be needed down the road.
"We recognize there are additional threats that have to be dealt with and we have a spiral effort working to incorporate those improved survivability features either into these vehicles or into a subsequent vehicle," Brogan said.
But while keeping an eye to the future, the Defense Department is forging ahead to field the current MRAP models now. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, the Army's deputy chief of staff for programs and requirements, called the MRAPs being fielded "just one more stage in a continuing evolution of capabilities we must provide to soldiers in harm's way."
Speakes praised efforts under way to "provide the capability to soldiers now, not to think about it, not to pontificate about it, but to deliver."
"Our goal right now is to field the MRAP as we know it today as rapidly possible," agreed Brogan. "The Marine Corps and our teammates are committed to delivering them the maximum number of survivable vehicles that have test-proven performance in the shortest time possible."