WASHINGTON – The Pentagon will fall far short of its goal of sending 3,500 lifesaving armored vehicles to Iraq by the end of the year. Instead, officials expect to send about 1,500.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday that while defense officials still believe contractors will build about 3,900 of the mine-resistant, armor-protected vehicles by year's end, it will take longer for the military to fully equip them and ship them to Iraq.
"Production is on pace, the issue is delivery," he said, adding that the lag is a disappointment and the Defense Department is still committed to getting as many of the vehicles to the war as quickly as possible.
The vehicles — known as MRAPs — have a special V-shaped hull that provides greater protection against roadside bombs. According to the military, no troops have been killed while riding in one.
Once the MRAPs are built, the military installs necessary military equipment — such as radios and radar — then sends them to Iraq. Right now that process is taking about 50 days, but officials hope to shorten that to a little more than a month.
Still, Morrell said that many of the MRAPs produced in November and December won't get to Iraq before the end of the year. He said getting 3,500 to the forces in Iraq by year's end was an "ambitious goal" but the revised estimate of 1,500 is more realistic now.
Currently many of the MRAPs are being flown to the Middle East, in an effort to get them into Iraq more quickly. But as production rates increase, the Pentagon is likely to send them by ship — which takes longer but is less expensive and can deliver many more at one time.
The contractors are Stewart and Stevenson Tactical Vehicle System LP, a division of Armor Holdings Inc.; BAE Systems Plc; Force Protection Industries Inc.; General Dynamics Corp.; and Navistar International Corp.'s subsidiary International Military and Government LLC.
Earlier this year, production was a problem in the Pentagon's struggle to get more MRAPs to Iraq. In a late June report, the Defense Department's inspector general found that the Pentagon awarded contracts for the vehicles to companies that failed to produce them on time, despite knowing that there were other contractors who could have supplied some more quickly. Force Protection Industries was one of the companies in the report noted for delays.
The report concluded that those earlier problems "resulted in increased risk to the lives of soldiers."