Not satisfied with the quality of armor available for the troops in Iraq, the Marine Corps has decided to ask for an entirely new kind of vehicle known as the MRAP, which the Corps hopes will provide more protection to Marines.
The Marine Corps hopes to replace all its 3,700 Humvees in Iraq, but it will take until 2009 and will cost $3.7 billion, since each vehicle costs $900,000. Until then, the Marines will have to make do with the more vulnerable armored Humvees available to them now.
The new hull-armored MRAPs, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, have V-shaped floors that deflect the force of the blast away from the vehicles. Humvees are more vulnerable because they have flat floors that absorb the blast from roadside bombs. MRAPs are said to provide survival rates four to five times greater than do armored Humvees.
Roadside bombs take a heavy toll on U.S. forces in Iraq. More than 700 Marines have been killed in Iraq since the war began in 2003, nearly two-thirds of them in Humvee attacks, the Pentagon said.
The Marine Corps had originally submitted a budget request this year for 1,022 vehicles but has now concluded that it is better off asking Congress for the additional funding to replace all its vehicles in Iraq.
Marine officials say the funding will enable them to hire more contractors to significantly ramp up the production of the vehicles. Currently, only 50 vehicles a month are rolling off the assembly lines of the one company making them.
Lt. Gen. Emerson Gardner Jr., deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for programs and resources, told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday that the "vehicles are big, heavy and expensive. … But we know the payoff was great."
According to Gardner, the Marine Corps doesn't see the MRAPs as replacements for the Humvees in its entire force, but is responding to an Iraq-specific threat.
"We're buying it for the war in Iraq, and this threat," Gardner said.
The Army plans to buy 2,500 MRAP vehicles over the next three years but sees them as an additional equipment option and not a replacement for its 14,000 up-armored Humvees in Iraq. Up-armored Humvees have increased armor protection.
Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday that MRAPs were "an off-the-shelf interim solution to a better-designed vehicle, a joint vehicle for the future."
When the war in Iraq started in 2003, the United States had only 253 armored Humvees in its inventory of 80,000 Humvees.
Humvees were primarily designed to be lightweight mobile vehicles, so it was decided that only a small number of the vehicles would need armored protection, specifically military police vehicles.
Schoomaker has said recently that the Army entered the war in Iraq "flat-footed," specifically because there was such a low inventory of armored Humvees.
As roadside bombs became the main military threat to U.S. forces in Iraq, both the Army and Marines ramped up production of new up-armored Humvees and developed armor kits that could be attached to existing vehicles.
All military Humvees in Iraq that are used for combat patrols currently have up-armored protection.
Since the spring, the Army has been quietly outfitting its 14,000 Humvees in Iraq with the most advanced version of the up-armored protection currently available, the FRAG Kit 5.