By Emelie Rutherford

The Marine Corps is “aggressively” working on plans to quickly purchase an under-development breed of all-terrain mine-resistant vehicles for troops in Afghanistan in response to an urgent request from theater, the service’s top equipment buyer told lawmakers yesterday.

In a congressional hearing that continued past Defense Daily‘s deadline, House defense authorizers pressed Marine Corps and Army officials for more clarity on the new effort for an off-road variant of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MRAP), more than 16,000 of which were bought to shield troops from explosives. The new joint-service MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) is intended to be a lighter and more-maneuverable MRAP for use in Afghanistan. It will need substantial funding in the war supplemental funding bill lawmakers expect to receive from the Pentagon this month.

Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM) head Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan told reporters he hopes only one company is tapped to build the vehicles after the current source selection is completed. Solicitation documents leave leeway for more than one vendor to be selected for M-ATV production orders; Brogan expects those orders be placed in June, after indefinite-delivery-indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts for test vehicles are awarded in April to up to five companies.

“Our goal is to have one” company for production orders, said Brogan, also the program executive officer for the MRAP Joint Program Office. Noting concerns raised about logistical challenges with the initial multi-vendor MRAP program, he said, “We would like to have the opportunity to avoid that with M-ATV.”

Brogan declined to say the number of companies that submitted written proposals and armor coupons for the M-ATV competition to the Marine Corps and Army by the Jan. 12 deadline.

With the M-ATV source selection, he said, “so far we’ve met every milestone that we’ve laid out for that effort.”

The competitors are due to submit production-representative vehicles by Feb. 23, and the IDIQ contracts are expected to be awarded in April, Brogan said.

“We would expect to award the production contract in June and then, depending on the vendor and what his lead-time requirements are, begin to start taking deliveries late this year,” Brogan said. “I’m not willing to commit to a date until I see…what the proposals have in them and how long each vendor believes he needs for long-lead time.”

Brogan said he does not know how much money will be sought for the M-ATV effort in the next war supplemental, but said he believes there will be “sufficient production dollars” for it in the Pentagon’s request.

The money will be for the “first traunch” of 2,080 M-ATVs, which is the number requested in the Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement, he said. Solicitation documents leave leeway for up to 10,000 vehicles.

Brogan said he does not know if more than 2,080 M-ATVs will be needed.

“That’s all we can frankly execute in fiscal year ’09 anyway, so if the requirement were to grow above 2,080, then funding for that would be requested in ’10,” he said.

Brogan said if one company is tapped for the production orders, the 2,080 vehicles could be ordered soon after the selection.

“Right now I anticipate no reason why, if we have a clear winner and we’re only using one guy, we wouldn’t put 2,080 on order right away,” he said. “That allows him to mature his vendor and supply base and make firm commitments to them; all those things help in pricing. Plus it’s clear there’s no dilemma in their minds about whether we’re going to come back and order the rest later. So it’s a commitment.”

The MRAP requirement for all the services and Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is 16,238 vehicles, as set by the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) last November, Brogan said in written testimony to the House Armed Services Air and Land Forces subcommittee and Seapower and Expeditionary Forces subcommittee. The government accepted more than 15,000 of the 16,230 MRAPs under contract as of Jan. 27, Brogan wrote, adding more than 11,200 of those vehicles had been fielded to theater as of that date. Eight more MRAPs for SOCOM will be ordered, he added.

Whether the Marine Corps itself orders M-ATVs remains to be seen.

“The Marine Corps is conducting the necessary analysis to establish our specific vehicle requirements for the MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle,” Brogan said in written testimony. He also wrote that the Marine Corps’ current requirement of 2,225 MRAPs, which was met last summer, “supports our ongoing theater operations and home station training.”

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway said two weeks ago that the service is looking at tweaking existing MRAPs for use in Afghanistan, as opposed to buying some of the new variant of mine-proof vehicle. Conway told reporters that all of the Marine Corps’ current MRAPs likely will not be needed as part of the service’s tables of equipment (Defense Daily, Jan. 26).

Three Army officials at yesterday’s HASC subcommittee hearing, noting that theater operational requirements are nearly met for the initial MRAPs, said in a statement that “efforts are underway to begin retrograding older/less capable MRAP to CONUS for Pre-Deployment and Home Station Training.”

“We anticipate shipment of retrograded vehicles to begin in March 09,” says the statement from Army Brig Gen. Peter Fuller, the Program Executive Officer (PEO) Soldier; Army Maj. Gen. Robert Lennox, assistant deputy chief of staff for operations, plans, and training at the Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC); and Kevin Fahey, the program executive officer for the Army’s Combat Support & Combat Service Support ship at the Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM).

Brogan said MARCORSYSCOM will “execute any new, validated requirements or capability needs that are identified by the warfighter.” The service, the executive officer for the initial MRAP effort, was faulted in 2007 for not responding faster to a urgent theater request for the vehicles.

Fuller, Lennox, and Fahey in their statement said they recently “received a classified report that underscored the effectiveness of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protection vehicle.”