- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asked Congress yesterday for permission to shift as much as $1.3 billion from other military programs to speed up the purchase of bomb-resistant vehicles for troops in Iraq.

Military officials said the Army would like to reallocate about $800 million and the Marines want roughly $500 million to buy the Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles.

Mr. Gates went to Capitol Hill with Gen. George Casey, chief of staff of the Army, and Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, to request that the money be reprogrammed.

Rep. Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was looking forward to reviewing Mr. Gates‘ proposal. Defense officials are expected to provide additional details to Congress on the funding transfers later this week.

“Our committee will continue funding the MRAP needs of our brave servicemen and women to the fullest extent possible, and I am happy to see the [Defense Department] finally acknowledge the true magnitude of this need,” Mr. Skelton said yesterday.

Military officials said the shift in funds would not affect any day-to-day war spending or the troops in battle.

The Pentagon has come under fire in recent months, particularly from Congress, for perceived delays in getting the armored vehicles to the troops.

Mr. Gates has said that getting more of the armored vehicles to the troops is a top priority. He has demanded an accelerated effort to deliver the vehicles to Iraq in large numbers to replace the more vulnerable Humvee used by soldiers and Marines.

The additional money would help contractors get more of the vehicles to the field faster, the officials said. They did not say exactly how many more or how much faster the work could be completed.

Last Wednesday, the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council, which includes high-ranking representatives from all of the military services, agreed that the military needs to buy as many of the reinforced vehicles as the contractors could produce.

The group previously endorsed the need for nearly 7,800 MRAPs, which included about 2,500 for the Army. The projected cost would be about $8.4 billion.

Army officials have said they could use as many as 17,700, and the Marines want 3,700.

In its memo, the council said the Pentagon wants to “reach a maximum production rate as soon as possible,” but the final number will depend on the changing conditions in the war, feedback from commanders and any changes in the military’s mission in Iraq.

No U.S. forces have been killed while riding in the MRAP carriers, which cost about $1 million each and have a unique V-shaped hull that deflects blasts outward and away from passengers.

The military officials said the Pentagon hopes Congress eventually would restore much of the funding, which is being shifted from other accounts for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.