Friday, November 6, 2009

Pentagon Touts New, Lighter Vehicle for Afghanistan



The Pentagon on Monday showed off a new, lighter armored vehicle built for the rugged roads of Afghanistan, saying it was rushing to ship the "life-savers" to U.S. troops. The all-terrain vehicles were commissioned after U.S. military commanders found that mine-resistant M-RAPs designed for Iraq were too big and cumbersome for Afghanistan.

"The terrain in Afghanistan is different from Iraq. It's more uneven, the roads are difficult to traverse. That's why we've had to create an all-terrain version," Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told reporters.

Standing next to one of the new M-ATVs in front of the Pentagon building, Carter said flying the vehicles to Afghanistan was an urgent priority to help troops facing the lethal threat of homemade bombs."It will be a life-saver in Afghanistan," Carter said.The effort to produce the new vehicles had moved with unusual speed compared to previous defense programs that have often been plagued by delays, he said.

U.S. commanders in the region issued an urgent request less than a year ago, the contract was awarded to Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Corporation in June, and the first vehicles were delivered to Afghanistan in September."This vehicle was built on a very fast track," Carter said.

Officials said 41 of the new vehicles had arrived in Afghanistan so far, and the Pentagon planned to have about 5,000 in place by March 2010.While the standard armored M-RAP for Iraq weighed in at 40,000 pounds (18,143 kilograms), the new M-ATV is about 25,000 pounds and has an independent suspension that makes it more agile on unpaved dirt tracks, said Dave Hansen, deputy program manager.

The vehicle, which costs about 1.4 million dollars each and can carry a five-member team including a gunner, handles better than the heavier M-RAP and "drives like an SUV," he said.The M-ATV is not exactly fuel efficient, getting about four to seven miles a gallon (1.7 kilometers per liter) with a tank that holds more than 40 gallons.

Although lighter, the new vehicle provides the same protection against homemade bombs as the standard M-RAP in Iraq, officials said.Homemade bombs are the number one cause of casualties in Afghanistan, claiming the lives of 236 soldiers in the NATO-led mission between January and September, according to the Pentagon.Until the M-RAPs were produced, former president George W. Bush's administration was accused of failing to sufficiently equip troops in Iraq against roadside bombs.

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