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
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
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,
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
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
BAE Systems representatives didn't return
calls seeking comment.