Getting mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles to war zones is the highest equipment priority for the U.S. Department of Defense, according to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Last June, he assigned the MRAP program a top-priority DX rating—giving it preference for critical resource purchases, including steel.
While it's clear that the rush is on to manufacture and deliver the vehicles, less certain is just how many will ultimately be ordered, with estimates ranging from 15,000 to more than 23,000 units. The most recent announcement on orders was made Oct. 19, when the Defense Department issued contracts for an additional 2,400 MRAP vehicles, which brought the total number ordered to 8,800.
The Defense Department was expected to ask Congress for an additional $8.2 billion in December to buy an additional 6,500 vehicles to meet the current stated requirement of slightly more than 15,000 MRAPs.
The Pentagon had predicted in July that more than 3,400 MRAPs would be in Iraq by the end of 2007, but those forecasts were quickly revised downward. By early November, Pentagon officials were telling lawmakers that more than 1,500 units should arrive in Iraq by year-end, when monthly production of the armored vehicles should reach more than 1,000 units.
The Pentagon was expecting industry production of around 3,600 vehicles by the end of December, according to the agency's most recent statements. While that in itself represents a gigantic ramp-up—a year ago, capacity was just 10 vehicles per month—deliveries to Iraq are being delayed because electronic equipment must be installed before shipping.
Production of MRAPs also has been hampered by the fact that there are 16 different types of vehicles, including separate Marine Corps and Army versions. This also has increased the need for extra training, maintenance and spare parts for troops in the field.
Three companies are building the vehicles Force Protection Inc., Ladson, S.C., which has a joint venture with General Dynamics Corp., Falls Church, Va.; Warrenville, Ill.-based Navistar International Corp.'s International Military & Government LLC division; and BAE Systems Plc, London.
A Force Protection spokesman said in an interview that the company delivered just over 200 vehicles in October and expects to ramp that up to about 500 vehicles a month by the first quarter of 2008.
Force Protection uses formed plate steel supplied by various vendors, the spokesman said, and the company hasn't experienced any problems with supply thanks to the DX rating. "We and the other manufacturers of the vehicle get to move to the front of the production line," he said, adding that he'd heard of some concerns within the Navy about potential shipbuilding constraints because of the priority given to the MRAP program.
There have been concerns among all manufacturers about material supply shortages for axles, he said. "But I think all of us have gone out and gotten two or three different suppliers to alleviate that concern." He noted that foreign companies are now supplying a portion of the axles.
International Military & Government, which produces International MaxxPro MRAP vehicles, has contracts to deliver 2,971 of them, a company spokesman said. The company's initial contract for 1,200 vehicles should be fulfilled by February 2008, with the remainder delivered by the end of April. The company, which is partnered with Israel's Plasan Sasa Ltd. for armor design, has found challenges in securing enough armor-grade steel and has had to seek out additional sourcing in the United States, the spokesman said.
BAE Systems representatives didn't return calls seeking comment.