By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 30, 2009 - The first parcel of an influx of vehicles designed to protect troops from deadly roadside bombs is expected to arrive overnight in Afghanistan, a Defense Department spokesman said today. The expected delivery comes soon after the department awarded an order for more than 6,600 of the mine-resistant, ambush-protected all-terrain vehicles -- known as M-ATVs -- to be fielded over the next year.
"That is just the first wave of a massive production and transportation program that will see at least 6,644 of these life-saving vehicles delivered to our forces in Afghanistan over the next year or so, making it one of the fastest and highest-priority acquisition programs in the history of the Defense Department," Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters today.
Three M-ATVs were loaded onto a C-17 and four onto a C-5 at the Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., yesterday and flown to Afghanistan. Morrell characterized the shipment as an "extraordinary achievement" considering that the contract for production of these highly maneuverable armored trucks was awarded to the Oshkosh Corp. just three months ago.
Conventional MRAP vehicles feature a V-shaped hull to deflect roadside bombs, and are proven to be lifesavers on the battlefield. The M-ATV provides troops a smaller and more maneuverable vehicle that can travel off-road and navigate Afghanistan's difficult, mountainous terrain, Marine Corps Systems Command officials said.
Morrell said the department would like the M-ATVs to have an effect in Afghanistan similar to the one that MRAPs had when they were delivered en masse to Iraq, leading to a reduction in casualties resulting from roadside bombs.
"These new vehicles are urgently needed, because improvised explosive devices are claiming the lives of more U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan than ever before," he said. "The hope is that the M-ATVs will have the same impact in Afghanistan as the MRAPs did in Iraq, providing our troops the best counter-IED protection money can buy so that they can defeat the terrorist networks responsible for planting these bombs, and ultimately win the trust and confidence of the Afghan people."
The M-ATV supports small-unit combat operations in highly restricted rural, mountainous and urban environments that include mounted patrols, reconnaissance, security, convoy protection, communications, command and control, and combat service support. It is designed to replace the up-armored Humvee in Afghanistan. The M-ATV will carry up to five personnel: four plus a gunner.
Morrell added that the vehicle has captured the attention of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who previously made it a personal mission to oversee the expedited fielding of the MRAP vehicle in Iraq.
"With so much riding on this program, of course Secretary Gates will be watching it like a hawk in the coming months, just as he did the MRAPs," Morrell said.