Magazine article National Defense

Heavier Armor: Military Services in the Market for 4,000 Blast-Proof Vehicles

Magazine article National Defense

Heavier Armor: Military Services in the Market for 4,000 Blast-Proof Vehicles

Article excerpt

Expectations that U.S. troops will not leave Iraq for the foreseeable future have prompted the military services to request an additional 4,000 mine-resistant armored vehicles.

Unlike armored humvees, mine-protected vehicles have V-shaped hulls and raised chasses, and are specifically designed to deflect bomb blasts. Side armor and bulletproof glass protect against small arms fire.

The Army and the Marine Corps have purchased several hundred of these vehicles in recent years, but the escalating violence in Iraq led to a decision last fall to boost the inventory.

In late December, vendors submitted bids for the so-called "mine-resistant ambush-protected" vehicles, or MRAP.

The MRAP program will cover a family of three categories of trucks. The Marine Corps currently is managing the program on behalf of the other services. The decision to acquire 4,000 more vehicles was driven by the assumption that these trucks can withstand roadside bombs and sniper attacks better than conventionally armored trucks, explained Capt. Jeff Landis, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Systems Command.

The command issued a request for industry bids in November for 4,060 vehicles--2,500 for the Army, 538 for the Navy and 1,022 for the Marine Corps.

The Corps got $966 million in last year's war emergency appropriation to buy 805 vehicles, but is counting on an additional $2 billion this year to acquire all 1,022. The other services also are expected to receive emergency war funds to pay for the vehicles. The price of each truck ranges from $400,000 to $750,000.

Three types of vehicles will be acquired under the MRAP program.

One is a mine-resistant six-passenger utility vehicle. It would be slightly larger than an armored humvee, with a V-shaped hull, ballistic glass, gun turret, undercarriage armor and a raised chassis. The Army plans to buy 463, the Navy 415 and the Marine Corps 538.

The second category is the 38,000-pound Cougar troop transport. The Cougar is a multipurpose, 12-ton mine-protected armored patrol vehicle that comes in 10-passenger and 16-passenger variants. Anticipated orders for this vehicle include 2,037 for the Army, 113 for the Navy and 420 for the Marine Corps.

The third category is the 45,000-pound Buffalo mine-clearing vehicle currently used by explosive ordnance disposal units. The Navy and the Marine Corps each will order 10 and 64 Buffaloes, respectively.

The MRAP program is billed as a competitive award, but two of the three categories of vehicles--the Cougar and the Buffalo--currently are made by one company, Force Protection Inc. At least 300 Cougars and Buffaloes have been deployed to Iraq so far.

"We wanted to open it up for competition to get the best available technology," Landis said.

But in fact it will be only a limited competition. "It's interesting that they call it a competition, when the only real competition is for category one," said an industry executive.

Several industry representatives contacted for this article privately voiced frustration about the market dominance of Force Protection Inc. as the sole U.S. provider of mine-protected vehicles. They also wondered whether this new round of vehicle buys could be handled by the small company, whose manufacturing capacity is said to be about 40 vehicles per month.

A spokesman for Force Protection declined to comment for this article. A number of public announcements in recent months reveal that the company is trying to expand its manufacturing capacity by signing up partners to help produce the Cougar. Force Protection is a subcontractor to BAE Systems for the production of the Cougar for the Iraqi army. The company subsequently signed partnership deals with General Dynamics Land Systems and with Armor Holdings for the production of the Cougar for the U.S. military. …

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