( Bloomberg ) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the heavily armored military vehicles being produced to protect U.S. forces in Iraq from roadside bombs will be of increasing value in Afghanistan as well.
While Iraq will remain the first priority for the Mine - Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles, known as MRAPs, ``we are going to send more of the vehicles to Afghanistan,'' Gates said after touring the Charleston, South Carolina, facility where the MRAPs are completed and shipped to the Middle East.
John Young, the defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, who accompanied Gates, said about 500 MRAP RG-31 models will be sent to Afghanistan. That would represent a more than tenfold increase above the number of MRAPs currently in that country, Young said.
The RG-31 is produced by Falls Church, Virginia-based General Dynamics Corp.
Young said its relatively light weight makes it especially useful on Afghanistan's rugged terrain. The RG-31 weighs 11.6 tons, making it the lightest of seven MRAP models, according to U.S. military data.
MRAPs are equipped with blast-resistant V-shaped bottoms designed to protect troops from roadside bombs and other explosive devices. U.S. officials have said Taliban forces in Afghanistan are increasingly turning to roadside bomb attacks in their battle against U.S., NATO and Afghan army forces.
The largest maker of the vehicles is Ladson, South Carolina- based Force Protection Inc. Other producers include Warrenville, Illinois-based Navistar International Corp., London-based BAE Systems Plc and General Dynamics.
Gates ordered the military to make increased production of MRAPs its top acquisition priority in May 2007. At that time, he said he made that decision after reading a news article reporting that there had been no fatalities in 300 roadside bomb attacks on the vehicles.
Today, Gates called the crash production program an example of how the federal government can function effectively when there is a consensus between different political parties and branches of government to achieve an important shared goal.
``There have been so many aspects of this war where government and others have been subject to criticism,'' Gates told reporters. ``This is something that really went right. And it involved everybody doing the right thing, from the president and Congress on down.''
Young said 1,187 MRAPs were produced last month, just under the Pentagon-established goal of 1,195.
As of the end of 2007, 11,891 MRAPs had been produced, Young said. He said another order for about 3,500 of the vehicles will likely be placed in March in order to meet Gates's overall production goal of 15,374.
The total cost of meeting that goal will be about $22.4 billion, which has already been appropriated by Congress, Young said.
Young said no decision has been made as yet about further production to go beyond the 15,374 goal. The Marines have indicated they may require fewer of the vehicles than originally envisioned, while the Army has said it may need more than planned.
Young said about 1,500 MRAPs are already in service in Iraq and Afghanistan and about 700 others have been shipped to the region for future deployment.