US hails MRAP, war vehicle that saved lives, despite bureaucracy
Officials take swipes at military bureaucracy as they praise US$45b armoured truck programme
US defence officials have held a ceremony to congratulate themselves on the creation of an armoured vehicle that helped protect American troops, but acknowledged the programme succeeded in spite of the Pentagon's own entrenched bureaucracy.
During the Iraq war, as homemade explosives inflicted heavy casualties on soldiers riding in standard Humvee vehicles, senior officers had appealed to Washington for heavier trucks better designed to withstand insurgent bombs.
But their request met with opposition in the Pentagon and in the US Congress, and it took a concerted push from then-defence secretary Robert Gates and others to rush into production new vehicles known as MRAPs, or mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, officials said.
"Commanders saw an urgent need," Ashton Carter, deputy defence secretary, said at the ceremony on Monday honouring the team that pressed for the MRAP. "They requested urgent assistance from the Pentagon, a plea that initially went unheeded, a mistake that forced the department to permanently alter its whole approach to meeting urgent battlefield needs."
As Pentagon chief, Gates had voiced his "frustration with the business-as-usual approach he found too often here, and led to his decisions in many cases simply to bypass the system, as with the MRAP task force", Carter said.
Gates, who stepped down last year, would often lament how "the troops are at war, but the Pentagon is not", Carter said.
In a written note read out at Monday's event, Gates praised the task force he appointed - which expedited the delivery of more than 24,000 MRAPS to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, at a cost of roughly US$45 billion.
"You have led and implemented the largest defence procurement programme to go from decision to full industrial production in less than a year since world war two," he wrote.
And in a dig at the Pentagon mindset, he added: "As you look back on this unique time in your careers, you can take great satisfaction in knowing - unlike many, even in the Defence Department - that your work truly saved the lives and limbs of many men and women in uniform."
Vice-President Joe Biden, who, as a senator, led efforts to fund the heavily armoured truck, told the audience he struggled to persuade fellow lawmakers - including "pro-defence" hawks - to support the initiative in 2007.
Some lawmakers criticised the proposal because they said the military would have no use for the trucks once the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were finished, Biden said.
"Can you imagine Franklin Roosevelt being told, 'We need X number of landing craft on D-Day, but, you know, once we land, we're not going to need them all again. So why build them?'" Biden said.
The Pentagon has no plans to build more MRAPs and the programme will now be managed by the US Army instead of the Marine Corps, a step officially marked at Monday's "transition" ceremony.
Officials say the slow-moving, heavy vehicles are expected to have a less prominent role in the future US force, once the bulk of American combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, with a large number of MRAPs due to be placed in storage.
Carter said the end of MRAP production illustrated the US shift away from counter-insurgency campaigns to a strategic tilt towards Asia.
"The era of total focus on Iraq and Afghanistan, which had to be done, is coming to an end and a new strategic era is dawning," he said.