Gates Asks Congress to Transfer More Funds to MRAP Program
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 18, 2007 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday asked Congress for approval to transfer nearly $1.2 billion to the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle program to get an estimated 3,500 of the vehicles to Iraq by the year’s end, defense officials announced today. (Video)
John Young, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle Task Force, answers questions along with (left to right) Lt. Gen. John G. Castellaw, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps; Lt. Gen. Stephen M. Speakes, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for programs; and Brig. Gen. Michael M. Brogan, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command, during a Pentagon news conference on the procurement of MRAP vehicles, July 18, 2007. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Molly A. Burgess, USN
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The funds, to be added to almost $4 billion already programmed for MRAPs this year, will speed up the timetable for getting deployed troops the best armored vehicles possible, said John Young, director of defense research and engineering and chairman of the Defense Department’s MRAP task force.
By reprogramming an additional $1.2 billion to the program, the department can sign contracts for an additional 2,650 MRAPs, Young told Pentagon reporters today. This will bring the department’s total MRAP order to 6,415.
Nearly three-quarters of those MRAPs are slated for delivery by Dec. 31. “By the end of the year, we hope to have delivered 3,935 vehicles,” he said.
Factoring in the time required to equip those vehicles with jammers, communication equipment and other gear and to deliver them to the theater, Young estimated that about 3,500 of the MRAPs will be in Iraq by Dec. 31.
Meeting last night with the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriation committees, Gates emphasized the importance of getting the V-hulled vehicles that deflect underbelly blasts to the combat zone as quickly as possible, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said.
Gates told Congress “time is of the essence,” because “every month troops go without MRAPs could indeed cost lives,” Morrell said. “The secretary came away from his meeting confident that Congress recognizes the urgency of this request, and he is hopeful they will quickly approve it,” he said.
Congress already has shown solid support for MRAPs. The legislators added $1.2 billion to the department’s initial $2.6 billion request for the program for fiscal 2007, Young said.
If approved, the fund transfer to the MRAP program will make it the Defense Department’s third-largest acquisition program, he noted. Only the missile defense and Joint Strike Fighter programs will be bigger.
But dollars alone aren’t enough to get MRAPs to the field, defense officials recognize. “There are no parking lots anywhere where we can go and buy lots of MRAPs,” said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command.
Another problem is that no existing production lines were equipped to pump out as many MRAPs as the department needs as fast as it needs them.
A joint Defense Department team is jumping through hoops to cut through those obstacles and move MRAP procurement as quickly as possible, Young said. “This is not being handled in a business-as-usual fashion,” he said.
The Defense Department has dramatically compressed the normal contracting process, worked around the clock to test potential vehicles, and helped industry aggressively ramp up production capacity, Morrell told reporters.
Four companies currently produce MRAPs, and another may join the effort soon if its prototype model measures up, Brogan said. These companies are quickly increasing their production rates to keep up with demand.
But the MRAP task force’s first challenge, Young said, was to make sure the materials and parts required for MRAPs were being produced at rates fast enough to keep up with production.
For example, the tire industry was able to produce only about 1,000 of the large, heavy-duty MRAP tires per month in June. To keep pace with plans to build about 1,300 MRAPs per month by December, at least 6,000 tires a month would be needed.
“We have taken steps to help two vendors increase their ability to build tires, and we are buying tires as fast as they can produce them so that we don’t have a shortage,” Young said.
The task force faced similar issues with steel, axles, engines and other MRAP components, and is taking similar measures to ensure they’re available, he said.
To help their efforts, Gates assigned the MRAP program a “DX” rating in June to ensure other defense programs don’t interfere with MRAP production, said Young. DX ratings are reserved for top-priority defense acquisition programs.
“The DX rating provides MRAP the highest-priority access to components and materials if supplier capacity cannot meet the demand from all programs,” Young explained.
Another challenge in MRAP acquisition is ensuring the vehicles produced are up to standard and provide the best protection possible, he said.
Testers at the Army’s Aberdeen Test Center, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., are putting MRAPs through the paces, Brogan said. Working three shifts around the clock, they’re evaluating prototypes to ensure they provide adequate ballistic protection and operate reliably.
In addition, troops who have served in Iraq are testing the vehicles under conditions designed to replicate the combat theater, he said.
As production capabilities increase, Morrell said, it’s “imperative to take full advantage of that new-found capacity.”
Troops in Iraq deserve nothing less than the very best armored vehicles possible, the officials said.
“Our troops battling improvised explosive devices deserve the very best protection available,” Morrell said. “And right now, that is an armored vehicle with a raised chassis and a V-shaped undercarriage, features that make MRAPs better able to deflect blasts on roadside and deeply buried bombs.”