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Pentagon wants faster delivery of mine-resistant vehicles

Roadside bombs are a big threat to troops in Iraq. An armored truck called the Cougar could help protect the troops.

Cougar MRAPs
Force Protection's Cougar MRAPs ship out. Force Protection

The military-industrial complex is moving double-time to get tough new vehicles to troops in Iraq.

The MRAP (Mine Resistant Armored Protection) vehicles are on a mission to provide a better shield against roadside bombs. They achieve that protection in part through a V-shaped undercarriage that rides high off the ground. In terms of overall strength, they fall somewhere between up-armored Humvees (which were never intended to provide much in the way of armor) and the thicker-skinned M2 Bradley fighting vehicle.

While they can't defend against all types of explosives, they have proven effective against shaped charges designed to pierce armored vehicles.

"These large IEDs (improvised explosive devices) can destroy an Abrams tank," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said last week. "But I think the experience of the Marines in Anbar suggests that the MRAP, and particularly with the V-shaped hull, does provide significantly enhanced protection for the soldiers and Marines inside."

Cougar 4x5
The Cougar 4x4 Force Protection

One of the latest deliveries of MRAPs was airlifted to the Iraq theater of operations over the weekend, just a few days after a Defense Department panel recommended that the military procure as many of the vehicles as suppliers can crank out in the coming fiscal year. Typically, it can take 30 days to ship the vehicles by sea. The time needed for post-production work, such as rigging the MRAPs with communications gear, also usually takes about a month--but that has been trimmed by about a week.

"The department is embarking on an aggressive acquisition strategy to put as many of these armored vehicles into the field as fast as possible," Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told Pentagon reporters Monday, according to the American Forces Press Service.

The weekend shipment was of an unspecified number of vehicles from Force Protection, of Ladson, S.C. The mainstay of the company's MRP line is the Cougar, which can be configured in either a 4x4 or 6x6 version, for duties ranging from troop transport to command and control to ambulance service. The larger model (weighing in at nearly 20 tons, plus a 13,000-pound payload) can carry up to 12 troops, while the smaller one (16 tons, plus a 6,000-pound payload), when assigned to bomb squad crews, can carry four troops and a large bomb-detection robot.

Both versions of the Cougar are equipped with a 330-horsepower Caterpillar C-7 diesel engine.

Force Protection says that to date it has received contracts for more than 1,800 MRAP vehicles. Production is scheduled to exceed 400 vehicles per month by February 2008, the company said in June.