By Emelie Rutherford

A senior Army official said while it’s not known yet if the Pentagon will order more Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles for troops in Afghanistan, he does not see a potential follow-on effort for lighter versions of the trucks conflicting with the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, Army deputy chief of staff for programs (G-8), told reporters at the Association of the United States Army’s (AUSA) conference in Washington yesterday that he sees “a synergy and a common focus on improving qualities that are resident in JLTV and these preliminary vehicles that we’re seeing out here on the display floor.”

Truck builders including Navistar Defense displayed light versions of MRAP and MRAP-like vehicles that they have floated to the Army for a potential emerging vehicle effort, which has been called MRAP Lite and MRAP 3 by some people.

Defense industry denizens at the conference questioned how the JLTV program and the potential follow-on MRAP effort would relate to each other. Some companies have proposed similar vehicles for both truck efforts, which have very different timelines.

For the JLTV program, the Army is planning to award three technology development contracts late this month and then award production contracts several years later.

The potential MRAP Lite effort was spurred by a recent Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement (JUONS) from troops in Central Command seeking lighter, more-maneuverable MRAP- like vehicles that are less prone to roll over (Defense Daily, Aug. 20). The Army on Aug. 21 issued a request for information (RFI) to industry seeking input on the more- agile vehicles. Defense officials now are evaluating a raft of RFI responses–which some sources said total close to 30–as they weigh the path ahead.

The final expected orders for the initial 15,000-vehicle MRAP effort were placed last month.

Truck builders at the AUSA gathering said they were asked this week by Army officials how quickly they could produce the MRAP Lite vehicles.

Speakes said the future situation in Afghanistan will dictate if the MRAP Lite vehicles are needed. The Army is preparing to send a brigade of soldiers to Afghanistan next year. Speakes, though, noted the future force disposition in the country is not known yet.

“If the nation decides to put addition capability, for example, in Afghanistan, we would be derelict if we hadn’t thought through how to do it and do it best,” he said. “And so I’m confident that if there is a decision made by this administration or future administrations to change force disposition, that we’re going to put the best equipment we can in whatever the operating environment is there.”

Speakes told reporters he said he does not know “how much we’ll buy, what we’ll buy, or if we’ll buy” any follow-on MRAPs.

“What we’re going to do is…what we’ve done over the past seven years of this war: be responsive, be agile, and ask for support and help,” he said.

He noted the latest models of MRAPs are smaller and more agile that previous iterations, and thus better configured to operate in Afghanistan, where the vehicle needs are different.

“The battlefield in Afghanistan is as lethal or more lethal than what we’ve experienced in Iraq,” he said. “So we also have to recognize that what worked in Iraq won’t necessarily translate on a one-for-one basis in Afghanistan.”

“Whether continuing modification to MRAP, as we tailor it for deployment in Afghanistan as well as Iraq, satisfies the end state of soldiers is not clear at this point,” he added.

In terms of how the “continuing interest in a smaller, more agile MRAP-like vehicle” and JLTV effort mesh, Speakes said: “In general terms, I see a harmony between the existing JLTV efforts and where MRAP…might continue to go. In other words, we know we’re going to need protection. It’s got to be IED- and ultimately EFP-proof. We have to ensure that we’re able to operate in an environment where we’re more agile than we’ve been in the past….I can’t predict where we’ll go beyond the current MRAP for protection, but we obviously see the need to continue to think and develop capabilities.”

Speakes, when asked, said he sees any such follow-on MRAP effort remaining joint among the services.

“Absolutely, that’d be my recommendation,” he said, adding there’s “enormous benefit” to the cross-service collaboration.