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.
Attached to the sides of Humvees, the kits provide greater side-blast protection than previous armored kits, particularly against the dangerous EFPs, Explosively Formed Projectiles, which have been smuggled in from Iran.
Some in Congress have raised concerns that the 21,500 troops being sent to Iraq as part of the surge announced by President Bush last month would not have all the proper equipment when they deployed, specifically Humvees equipped with the FRAG Kit 5 armor kits.
Army officials acknowledge that it will be June before all its Humvees in Iraq are outfitted with the FRAG Kit 5 armor kits but say that will be just in time for when all the surge troops to have arrived in Iraq.
Testifying on Capitol Hill Tuesday, however, Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey assured Congress that Army brigades participating in the surge would "have all the force protection equipment required when they enter into their theater of operation."
The Army also estimates that the incoming brigades will be short approximately 500 medium and large trucks when they arrive.
According to Harvey, though, it has been agreed that when all the brigades are in place they will share trucks from units already in Iraq. There are about 8,000 of these trucks currently in Iraq. In addition, it is expected that all incoming units will "fall in" to other equipment in Iraq, including the up-armored Humvees.