WASHINGTON (AP) — The Marines plan to buy fewer bomb-resistant vehicles than planned despite pressure from lawmakers who are determined to spend billions of dollars on the vehicles.
The Marine Corps' requirement for mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles would drop from the planned 3,700 to about 2,400, The Associated Press has learned. The Marines would not comment on the decision, but defense officials confirmed the cut. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced.
About a month ago, Marine Commandant Gen. T. James Conway signaled the possibility of a new examination of the commitment to the vehicles, saying he was concerned his force was getting too heavy.
''I'm a little bit concerned about us keeping our expeditionary flavor,'' he said.
At the same time, an independent study by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington questioned whether the Pentagon was buying too many of the pricey vehicles, which can cost as much as $1 million each. The study found that in some cases, the heavily armored vehicles, with their bomb-deflecting V-shaped hulls, might not be the answer that many believe they are.
Military officials and other experts have said that while the vehicles, known as MRAPs, are lifesavers in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are not as useful or mobile in some terrain.
The Marine Corps was criticized this year for not responding quickly enough to urgent requests for the vehicles from troops in Iraq. In May, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the vehicles were the military's highest priority acquisition program.
In his comments last month, Conway said the Marine Corps has emerged as a ''second land Army,'' assigned to secure Iraq, and must buy heavy equipment, including the mine-resistant vehicles, for protection against roadside bombs.
''Can I give a satisfactory answer to what we're going to be doing with those things in five or 10 years? Probably not,'' Conway said at an event sponsored by the Center for a New American Security. ''Wrap them in shrink wrap and put them in asphalt somewhere is about the best thing that we can describe at this point. And as expensive as they are, that is probably not a good use of the taxpayers money.''
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, buoyed by the vehicle's solid record — to date no troops have died in one — consistently have said the military must buy more and must buy them faster.