Textron Marine and Land Systems [TXT] will build another 55 of its Commando Select armored vehicles for the Afghan National Army (ANA) to replace trucks damaged in battle with Taliban forces.
The company on Monday announced a $56.2 million firm-fixed-price contract from the U.S. Army Contracting Command to supply 55 additional four-wheeled armored vehicles to the ANA, which already operates seven battalions worth of the vehicles.
Textron has built a total 634 Commando vehicles, about 623 that are fielded to the ANA, according to Mike Gelpi, vice president of land vehicles for Textron Marine and Land. The 55 new vehicles for the ANA are in addition to that.
“They will serve as vehicles to replace vehicles that have either been extremely damaged in battle or that have otherwise been damaged or taken out of service,” Gelpi told Defense Daily during a Sept. 29 interview. “It also gives them a pool of vehicles that they can put back into the fight very quickly while others are being worked on.”
The vehicles are being contracted through the standard foreign military sales (FMS) process based on requirements that were generated in theater based on battle losses and the expected continued withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces from Afghanistan, Gelpi said. Work will be performed in Slidell, La., with vehicle deliveries beginning in October 2015 and completing by February 2016.
The ANA uses the Commando, which has blast protection on par with much larger mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) trucks, for basic battlefield mobility, especially in quick-reaction scenarios. About 2,200 ANA soldiers have been trained by Textron to operate, maintain and repair the vehicles since 2011, Gelpi said.
The latest batch of 55 will include 36 equipped with objective gunner protection kits, 15 with enclosed 40mm/50-caliber turrets and four ambulance vehicles.
“These vehicles are very, very highly protected,” said Jonathan Dalrymple, vice president of business development for Textron Marine and Land Systems. “Our vehicles are combat vehicles. They are not used just like a school bus that drives troops into a battle area. They certainly have a protection level that is on par with a lot of those MRAP vehicles that you saw in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
With a fleet of about 300, Iraq’s security forces have the most Commando armored vehicles after the Afghan Army, though theirs are an earlier iteration of the Select model. The U.S.-led wars in those nations were lucrative marketing venues for the Commando family of vehicles as coalition partners were able to drive them in combat.
“There were a number of countries such as Poland, Georgia, some of the smaller Western, Balkan nations that agreed to come to the fight [in Iraq and/or Afghanistan], but without proper equipment,” Dalrymple said. “They would come to the U.S. motor pool and request the Commando…That generated a lot of subsequent interest.”
Now the line is being marketed on every continent, said Dalrymple.
In South America, Colombia, Chile and Brazil already have purchased versions of the truck while other countries are in talks with Textron to evaluate and potentially buy them, he said.
In Europe, Bulgaria became the first NATO member to operate the Commando Select when it bought 10 of the vehicles in late 2014. “A number of eastern-flank NATO countries” also are looking at purchasing the vehicle, he said.
Several Middle East countries are in the process of evaluating whether the Commando could fulfill their armored vehicle requirements. They include Kuwait, Oman and Jordan, Dalrymple said. Talks also are in the works with Saudi Arabia to possibly purchase the Commando Elite, he added.
“We have probably 40 to 45 different customers that we’re tracking for the Commando Select,” he said.