Corps refused 2005 plea for MRAP vehicles
Commanders in Anbar, the heart of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, wanted the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to protect troops attacked by insurgents using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), according to a Feb. 17, 2005, request filed by then-brigadier general Dennis Hejlik.
The Marines, the request said, "cannot continue to lose … serious and grave casualties to IED … at current rates when a commercial off the shelf capability exists to mitigate" them. Hejlik and a Marine Corps spokesman, Brig. Gen. Robert Milstead, confirmed the authenticity of the memo, which was first reported Tuesday on the Wired magazine website.
Since 2005, Pentagon leaders have shifted course on the MRAP. The Marines have requested 3,700 of the vehicles, and the Army is now seeking up to 17,700. The overall cost of buying the MRAPs could reach $25 billion, Pentagon records show.
On Wednesday, Hejlik and other officials said the Marines determined in 2005 they could protect troops better with armored Humvees than MRAPs.
Even if the Marines acted on Hejlik's February 2005 request, there weren't enough vehicles to fill it, said Tom Miller, then head of the Marines' MRAP program.
That argument doesn't make sense, said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del. "How is it possible that a request that is literally life or death got lost?" asked Biden, a major supporter of the MRAP.
Hejlik, now a major general, said Wednesday that the primary threat to Marines in Iraq in early 2005 was from bombs that tore into the sides of vehicles. Hejlik commanded Marines in Iraq at the time; he now heads the Marines' Special Operations Command.
Now, however, IEDs that rip into the bottom of vehicles are a greater threat, Hejlik said. MRAPs, which feature V-shaped hulls that disperse the force of an explosion, provide more protection from those IEDs than armored Humvees with flat, lightly armored bottoms.
The Marines determined in June 2005 that Humvees with reinforced armored doors provided more protection for Marines, Hejlik said. It "was the gold standard that would provide the necessary protection."
The Marines now have more than 2,800 armored Humvees in Iraq.
It wasn't until March that Marine Corps Commandant James Conway said MRAPs were his top war-fighting priority. Eight companies are vying for contracts to produce MRAPs that could be built by July 2009, according to a May 15 memo by acting Army Secretary Pete Geren obtained by USA TODAY.
The Pentagon should have moved faster, Biden said. "You cannot tell me that this country is incapable in the next six months of building every single damn one of these vehicles that needs to be built," he said.