The Honorable Robert M. Gates Secretary of Defense
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Gates:
I strongly support your decision to make Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles the military's top acquisition priority. With roadside bombs responsible for seventy percent of U.S. deaths and casualties in Iraq, fielding a vehicle that offers four to five times the protection of a heavily armed humvee - and thus reduces deaths and casualties by two-thirds - must be a national priority. I applaud your leadership in this effort.
We must have a clear understanding of exactly how many Mine Resistant vehicles the military needs. I understand that the Army now has a team in Iraq evaluating the possibility of replacing all of their humvees (HMMWVs) with MRAPs. That would require increasing MRAP production from 7,774 - which Congress is on track to fully fund - to as many as 23,000 vehicles by February 2008. That will require a massive funding and production effort. I respectfully request that, no later than June 15, you provide Congress a clear statement of how many MRAPs are needed, what it would cost to produce them by February 2008, and what obstacles exist to production.
I am also deeply troubled by information that came to light this week which suggests that the military leadership ignored an urgent request from commanders in Iraq for 1,169 MRAPs in February 2005. It was not until more than a year later, in May 2006, that the military acted on a second request, and then for only 185 vehicles. How is it possible that with our nation at war, with more than 130,000 Americans in danger, with roadside bombs destroying a growing number of lives and limbs, we were so slow to act to protect our troops? I hope you will make clear your personal interest in getting answers and provide them to Congress.
In particular, I would like answers to the questions that follow. What did the data show regarding the causes of American casualties and deaths in Iraq in 2004 and 2005? Were improvised explosive devices a significant threat? What technology existed at the time to protect against this threat? What were the obstacles to producing and deploying it? Was consideration given to a plan to overcome any production obstacles and if so, was it pursued and if not, why not? Was a decision made to deploy additional humvees with better side and undercarriage armor instead of MRAPs? If so, did Marine commanders in Washington believe that up-armored M-1114s could be effective against improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and, in the words of the February, 2005 request for MRAPs "Protect the crew from IED/mine threat through integrated V-shaped monocoque hull designed specifically to disperse explosive blast and fragmentary effects?" With regard to the February 2005 request, by whom was it considered and what was its disposition? Did it ever reach the Marine Corps Requirements Oversight Council? If not, where in the chain did it stop?
Last, I wish to call your attention to another vehicle that may provide needed protection against explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), the shaped charges that hit vehicles from the side. We must make sure that this is not another MRAP story that falls through the cracks. Last week, I learned about a vehicle that came out of the "Ballistic Protection Experiment" and is now commercially referred to as the Bull. The Bull was funded by the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization through the Army's Rapid Equipping Force to demonstrate that technology exists that can defeat both EFPs and IEDs. The vehicle has the necessary armor system fully integrated on a truck chassis. I understand that this vehicle is intended to be a complement to the MRAP program and its size would make it ideal for an urban environment. The vehicle also has the ability to carry cargo, which may make it suitable for some supply routes. In addition, the technology can be added to other vehicles if needed. It is my understanding that this program was successfully tested at Aberdeen. If this is accurate, I urge you to include the Bull in your evaluation of new vehicles needed for Iraq and inform Congress if additional funding is required for these vehicles as well. I also hope that you will consider it as an answer to another Urgent Universal Need Statement submitted by Marines in January of this year for such protection on at least 3,400 MRAPs.
Mr. Secretary, thank you for your personal leadership on this issue. I know you share my conviction that so long as we have a single soldier on the front lines in Iraq, or anywhere else, it is this country's most sacred responsibility to protect him.
Joseph R. Biden, Jr.