Lawmakers Urge Faster Action by Army in Deploying Latest Armored Vehicles

Posted March 2, 2007 at 3:04pm

Despite Congressional pressure to field top-of-the-line armored vehicles to troops overseas as soon as possible, the Army has so far been slow to set deployment targets and to line up funding for the vehicles, which are considered vital for limiting casualties from roadside bombs in Iraq.

Over the past few months, the Army has faced questions from lawmakers about its plan to field a vehicle that would protect soldiers driving on Iraqi streets from improvised explosive devices. Currently, the Army fields “up-armored” Humvees, but the new vehicles are designed to provide better protection.

Army leaders say they want to deliver a version of a new armored vehicle, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, in three years, but the service has yet to finalize a timeline. Meanwhile, another vehicle, the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, is slated to be fielded on interim basis, but the Army has not yet decided how many to buy.

At the Pentagon Tuesday, the Army Director of Force Management Brig. Gen. Charles Anderson, told reporters that the service plans to begin buying 2,500 new amored vehicles this summer and has an end goal of purchasing 18,000 of the amored vehicles.

“The question is, ‘what is that 18,000 going to be?’” Anderson told reporters. “It could be a combination of MRAP and also the JLTV.”

MRAP is a Army and Marine Corps program that the services are jointly pitching as a temporary platform to protect troops until JLTV is ready. As for the JLTV initiative, the services are still working on developing and finalizing requirements for the new vehicles.

Currently, the Army is slated to begin fielding JLTVs by 2012. However, Anderson acknowledged “that’s too late for us.”

“We want to accelerate the JLTV … bring it earlier so what we could do is buy a variant of the JLTV and field it to our soldiers,” he said. He later added that the Army would like to see the early variant in the soldiers’ hands by 2009, three years sooner than anticipated.

At a Jan. 23 House Armed Services Committee hearing, Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) told Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker that he was frustrated with service leaders not being up front with their force-protection needs.

“General, if I could just give you one last thought, one of my frustrations, and I think many members of this committee, is a continual game with words that says, ‘We’ve met requirement, and requirement wasn’t 100 percent of what needed to be done,’ whether it is body armor, whether it is up-armoring,” Taylor said.

At a Feb. 14 House Armed Services Committee hearing, Schoomaker told lawmakers that the service did not want to to purchase too many MRAPs if the vehicle would soon be obsolete.

“We’ve got to be very careful as we look forward how we want to apply our dollars so that we end up buying and providing everybody is something that’s taking us forward, not resetting the past,” he told the committee when asked about the Army’s plan to purchase MRAPs.

As for MRAP funding, the Army has requested $520 million for the vehicles in the Defense Department’s fiscal 2007 supplemental, while the Navy, on behalf of the Marine Corps, has asked for $500 million in the ‘07 supplemental. In the Defense Department’s fiscal 2008 supplemental the Army has requested $500 million for MRAP and the Navy $172 million.

Additionally, the Army would like an additional $2.2 billion to purchase MRAP vehicles in 2008, while the Marine Corps said it could use an additional $2.8 billion next year. The money was not requested in the fiscal 2008 budget, but the service has since told lawmakers that it needs the money.

At a Feb. 15 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), asked Schoomaker why the Army has time and time again said it has enough funds for armored vehicles but then asks for additional dollars.

Schoomaker told Kennedy, that the original requirement for up-armored humvees was 235, but today it’s 18,000.

“Every time we … start closing the gap over the request that the theater makes, it moves again,” Schoomaker told Kennedy. “And so every time we’ve testified, we have testified to the facts as they were at that point in time.”