VP Biden Heaps Praise on MRAP
Vice President Joe Biden came to the Pentagon Oct. 1 to hail the heavily armored truck that is estimated to have saved thousands of military service members’ lives and limbs.
Biden attended a ceremony that marked the handover of the program from the Marine Corps to the Army. He said he wanted to personally thank MRAP leaders for their efforts in buying and deploying 27,740 trucks in less than three years — which by Pentagon procurement standards is a heroic feat.
“It's not easy to push something this big through this system this fast,” Biden told an audience of civilians, military officials and MRAP contractors.
“I still marvel at how you got it done,” said Biden. He recalled that in the early days of the program in 2007, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates pleaded with Congress to appropriate funding upfront to ramp up production, which is not the way the Pentagon traditionally buys equipment. Biden said some lawmakers were hesitant to write a blank check to the Pentagon, but “everyone stepped up because of how Gates and others pushed the case.”
Congress authorized $23 billion between 2008 and 2010 to speed up manufacturing so that 1,000 vehicles could be built per month. The cost of the program through 2012 is $47.4 billion. Of the 27,740 vehicles produced, 24,059 were shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Marines, who are trying to put land wars behind and are looking to focus on sea-based warfare, are turning the management of MRAP over to the Army. Even though the U.S. Military will not be buying many new vehicles as the war in Afghanistan winds down, it will still need to maintain a large fleet of MRAPs that is likely to remain in service for many years. There are 12,726 currently in Afghanistan.
The Marine Corps Systems Command took over the administration of MRAP in Nov. 2006. The new manager is Kevin Fahey, the Army’s program executive officer for combat service support.
The current MRAP bureaucracy includes 391 government civilians, 10 military and 3,260 contractors. At its peak, it had 444 government civilians, 20 military and 4,263 contractors.
There are seven MRAP variants — Caiman, Cougar, MaxxPro, RG-31, RG-33 Buffalo and the all-terrain MRAP, or M-ATV — manufactured by six different companies.
Each vehicle costs anywhere from $535,000 to $586,000, but with the additional electronics and armor that military commanders requested, the price tag reached about $1.2 million per vehicle.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, who was the Pentagon’s acquisitions chief during the MRAP heyday, recalled how difficult it was for him and Gates at the time to mobilize the procurement community. “As Secretary Gates often said, the military was at war, but the Pentagon wasn’t,” Carter said in remarks at the ceremony. Gates and Carter assembled an “MRAP task force” to oversee the program outside of the traditional Pentagon procurement system, which Gates often chided for being slow and unresponsive.
There is stillno shortage of MRAP naysayers. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged that much in a congratulations note he wrote to the MRAP program and Carter read out loud to the audience. “You have led the largest defense procurement program to ever go from decision to full production in less than a year since World War II,” Panetta wrote. “You can take great success in knowing, unlike many in the Defense Department, that your work truly saved many lives and limbs.”
Carter suggested that the future of MRAP is unclear, as the Pentagon is shifting its focus from fighting insurgencies topreparing for what might come next.
“A new chapter begins for MRAP,” said Carter. “It’s a transition of all of us to the strategic future … to new technologies like cyber, new areas like Asia Pacific.”
Biden said he hopes the MRAP becomes a model for how the Pentagon does business in the future. “The needs are going to be different but will require the same kind of breakthroughs.”
Photo Credit: Defense Department