Magazine article National Defense

Armor Rush

Magazine article National Defense

Armor Rush

Article excerpt

Surge in vehicle orders calls for unconventional buying methods

A mid escalating pressure to deliver better protection for troops in Iraq, the Army and the Marine Corps have committed to buying nearly 6,800 mine-resistant armored vehicles by March 2008.

But to meet the aggressive schedule, the services have made a number of unordiodox buying decisions.

The Marine Corps, which oversees the procurement of the "mine resistant ambush protected" vehicles on behalf of all the services, was seeking to buy 4,060 MRAPs in late 2006. But the mounting U.S. war casualties in Iraq caused by roadside bombs led the Corps to triple its orders. Last month, the services agreed to buy approximately 6,800 vehicles.

The Marine Corps is buying MRAPs so it can take its armored humvees out of harm's way. The Army instead views the mine-resistant vehicles as "route clearance" support assets that would not necessarily be employed as patrol humvees.

The MRAP program is a "real challenge for the acquisition community," said Delores Etter, the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. Etter is the senior procurement executive overseeing MRAP. Because of its size, the program also will garner additional oversight from the Pentagons top acquisition official, Kennedi Krieg.

As a result of the sudden increase in the size of the program and the urgency attached to it, the Marine Corps began awarding production contracts for vehicles before they were fully tested and before the program got final endorsement from the four-star panel that approves all major military acquisitions.

Despite the pressing need for these vehicles, most of the funds to procure them are not in the Defense Department's budget and have yet to be appropriated under war-emergency measures. It also remains unclear whether the Army and the Marine Corps have agreed to buy the same vehicles. Earlier this month, Army officials indicated they are considering purchasing as many as 18,000 mine-resistant vehicles after they complete an initial buy of 2,500 MRAPs.

"This is a fast moving program with so many pieces," said a senior defense official who closely follows the MRAP program. Military commanders in Iraq have categorized these vehicles as "urgent needs," so the only way to satisfy the demanding schedule is by "doing things in parallel," the official said. That means several contractors - each one with a different MRAP design - are ramping up production lines while prototypes are tested at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

Before the MRAP program got under way this year, the Marine Corps had approximately 300 mine-protected vehicles in Iraq, and the Army about 2,000. Unlike armored humvees, mine-proof vehicles have V-shaped hulls and raised chassis. They offer 400 percent more protection than an armored humvee, said Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps.

The Joint Requirements Oversight Council - a four-star panel led by the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - was expected to approve the expanded MRAP program several weeks after the contracts had been awarded. The JROC was asked to sign off on orders of 2,500 vehicles for the Army, 538 for the Navy and 3,594 for the Marine Corps.

The fiscal year 2007 emergency war budget included $1.1 billion for MRAP, and $830 billion was requested in the 2008 budget. But that still leaves the program $4.45 billion short of what it needs to acquire all 6,632 vehicles.

The absence of funds for vehicles that were deemed an urgent need resulted from a lack of "synchronization" between the chains of command that oversee the budget and war-equipment requests, the defense official said. "The timing was out of synch. The services weren't able to react fast enough."

The Army signed on to the MRAP program last November - only after it received urgent requisitions from deployed units. "The request from the theater came too late" to include it in the budget that was sent to Congress in February, an Army official said. …

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