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Public Statements

MRAP

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

MRAP -- (Senate - July 19, 2007)

Mr. BIDEN. Madam President, I want to explain an amendment I hope to get adopted when we return to the Defense authorization bill and that I have filed today.

Let me be very frank. This is a very expensive amendment. It is also, literally, priceless. It makes good on this commitment: So long as a single American soldier or marine remains in Iraq, we will provide him or her with the best protection this country can provide.

Let me start with the basics. There are two critical issues facing our soldiers and marines today: improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, and explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs. IEDs are planted in roads and on the side of roads to hit the bottom of vehicles with powerful explosives. EFPs are shaped charges that come into the side armor of vehicles at high speeds.

We know that IEDs now cause about 70 percent of all American fatalities. Since 2003, in any given month, IEDs have caused between 30 and 76 percent of American fatalities. For every death, there are usually 2 to 10 Americans wounded. Over the past year, we have also seen a growing threat from EFPs. They are not yet everywhere in Iraq, but they are spreading and they are very lethal.

The military has a strategy for dealing with both. First, they seek to disrupt the organizations that produce IEDs and EFPs. They go after the people and the supplies. Second, they attempt to use tactics and technology to prevent IEDs and EFPs from being activated when American personnel are close enough to be harmed. Third, they attempt to survive a direct hit. It is the third area where we could and should have done much more to make a difference years ago but where still today we can and must make a difference.

The military has tested, both at testing centers and in the field, the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, also called an MRAP. The MRAP provides dramatically improved protection against IEDs. The military has said that it is four to five times as good as an up-armored HMMWV. More important, military commanders tell us that it will reduce deaths and casualties from IEDs by 67 to 80 percent. The Brookings Institution found that 1,400 Americans died in Iraq due to IEDs from March of 2003 through June of 2007. If we had had MRAPs in the field from the start--and we could and should have--938 to 1,120 Americans would be alive today.

And let me just clarify for my colleagues that this is not new technology. It has been used successfully in Africa, by nations much poorer than ours, since the 1970s. I don't want to get bogged down in history, but this is not rocket science. Every day we delay, another soldier or marine is killed or injured by an IED. If we just look at this year, IEDs killed 309 Americans; 207 to 247 would still be alive today if they had been in MRAPs. We need to make sure that for the second half of 2007, those MRAPs are there and those lives are saved.

What about the threat from these shaped charges that come in from the side, the EFP? The Army's Rapid Equipping Force and the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization started working on that last year. In conjunction with industry, they produced a vehicle nicknamed ``the Bull'' and officially called the Highly Survivable Urban Vehicle Ballistic Protection Experiment Program. This vehicle was tested and shown to defeat EFPs and also tested against the first level of MRAP requirements. That testing was completed in March of this year. For some reason, the military has not asked for another vehicle to do the MRAP level two tests. So we do not actually know how capable this vehicle might be for all threats, but we know it works against EFPs. Instead of trying to get ahead of the enemy and get this technology into the field, the military seems to be sitting on its hands while the EFP threat has increased. Why wouldn't you field something you know works?

The perfect vehicle would be a complete MRAP with EFP protection, but that appears to be many months away, although some MRAP producers tell me that their vehicles have survived EFP hits in the field. So again, we do not have the complete picture. We have also been told that Frag-Kit-6 armor can defeat EFPs, but it is too heavy for MRAPs. So vehicles must be redesigned and retested. This will take time. I understand that and support that effort, but Americans are dying today. Again, as with the MRAP, we have a technology that could keep them alive, and we should be using it while we work to perfect it.

I do not know if all of my colleagues saw the USA Today article that appeared on Monday detailing some of the history surrounding the MRAP. I will summarize a few points but will ask to have the entire article printed in the Record.

This article details efforts to get MRAPs going back to 2003. It also details the reasons for delay, and that is what I want to point out to my colleagues.

First, apparently, the leadership at the Pentagon did not expect this war to last this long. Well, that is no surprise. We all remember the ``Mission Accomplished'' speech and the promise of roses in the streets. We remember Vice President Cheney telling us that the insurgency was in its death throes. We remember Secretary Rumsfeld telling us that crime in Baghdad was not any worse than that in Washington, DC. I remember all of that. Sadly, none of those leaders remember the hearings that Senator Lugar and I held before the war began that predicted the need for a long-term American presence and engagement. They don't remember some of us, starting before the war, repeatedly urged the President to level with the American people about the likely duration, cost, and danger of this war. Perhaps even more tragically, this uncertainty about future force levels continues to limit the military commitment to fielding more MRAPs and EFP protected vehicles.

Second, these vehicles were seen as contrary to Secretary Rumsfeld's vision for the transformed military, a lighter, more agile force. While it depends on what armored humvee you are talking about, many believed that MRAPs were heavier and slower than humvees. The stifling effect Secretary Rumsfeld's views and management style had on military leaders is well known to everyone who follows military issues. In this instance, it meant that officers were predisposed against the heavier vehicle and didn't push the issue when our forces in the field asked for MRAP technology. Instead, they focused on the first two parts of the anti-IED strategy I talked about earlier.

Finally, and most disturbing to me, many believed that Congress would not support funding the MRAP while also fielding better armored humvees. I do not know of a single wartime funding request that Congress has denied. There have been some items added to the supplemental bills that were clearly not urgent or war related, but nothing directly linked to current operations was refused. Nonetheless, it appears that the military did not believe that our support for needed equipment was for real. Even today, I hear that leaders are concerned that they must cut multiple existing programs to pay for this growing MRAP requirement. There may be programs that we could all agree are not as vital for a wartime Army, but I do not want that debate and concern to slow lifesaving equipment.

I understand that this program will be the third largest procurement program in the Pentagon. As I said, it is very costly. We can work together in the future to find the lower priority programs that simply should not be funded if they are competing with lifesaving programs. We do not have any more time to delay spending the money needed to buy these vehicles, however, if we are going to save lives.

Leadership is about making hard choices, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and the administration to do whatever it takes. I am even willing to cut programs I support because saving lives and limbs under fire today must truly be our first priority. So, today, with this amendment I hope we can make it clear that we will provide whatever funding is needed, so that military leaders do not fear being honest about their needs.

In addition to the issues brought out in the article, I have also heard a regular concern that some in the military do not believe MRAPs will be needed in the future--that when we leave Iraq, we will leave most of these vehicles behind. I was happy to see the Secretary of the Army, Peter Geren, state clearly in his confirmation hearing that he believes MRAPs will be needed in future conflicts. It is clear to me that until we show America's enemies that we can handle IEDs, they will continue to use them throughout the world. We are already seeing an increased use of IEDs in Afghanistan.

It is also clear to me that those who worry about what the military will be driving in 5 years are missing the boat here. I understand that there are great advancements being developed for our future force. But we have a sacred trust to those on the front lines today, right now. Right now, we are saying to them: If you survive this war, we will get you really good protection for the next one. Give me a break. To paraphrase a former Secretary of Defense, you fight the war you are in, not the war you might be in down the road. Ideally, you do both, but your priority has to be protecting the men and women under fire now. End of story. Can anyone imagine Roosevelt saying, ``Listen, we may not need some of those boats after Normandy, so maybe we should not build so many?'' Of course not. War is inherently wasteful and this war is no exception. I am willing to waste money and equipment if it means we don't waste lives and limbs. The fact that we may not need all of the vehicles we buy today in 5 years, is no reason to shortchange the soldiers and marines who truly need the vehicles today.

I have given my colleagues some of this history so they will understand why we must stand up for our marines and soldiers on this issue. We must cut through the ``business as usual'' bureaucracy. I applaud Secretary Gates for making MRAPs the top priority of the military, but I am concerned that even now, some of the same problems continue. After all, Army commanders in Iraq concluded that they need 17,700 MRAPs. That is 15,200 more than currently being bought. We must act now to put money in the pipeline to order the additional vehicles and expand production capacity.

Instead, we find out that 2 months later, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council has yet to approve the Army request as a ``validated joint requirement.'' I don't get it.

The President tells us that the most important thing in this war is the judgment of our commanders in the field. Now, I may disagree with the policy being executed, but I would agree that when it comes to tactical decisions about the best way to implement our policies, this is the right approach. Apparently, others feel that the commanders should only be listened to selectively, when it does not cost too much money.

The commanders in the field have said that they need an additional 15,200 mine resistant vehicles for the Army. They have also said that they need thousands of vehicles with EFP protection. So, why the delay?

No one from the Pentagon has been able to explain it to me.

Last, some argue that the real problem is production capacity. I simply don't buy it. We are being told that American industry cannot handle this or does not care enough about our soldiers and marines to do it. I don't buy it. These are purely military vehicles. If the military does not place the orders, industry will not build them, and they certainly won't create new production capacity. They cannot sell the extras to your neighbor or mine. So we must put the money up front and challenge our companies to deliver quickly. We did that on the supplemental where Congress accepted my amendment adding $1.2 billion. Because that led to increased production capacity, Secretary Gates has reprogrammed another $1.2 billion for fiscal year 2007 to take advantage of that new capacity.

We made it to the Moon by putting money up front and challenging Americans to do their best to get there. MRAPs and EFP protected vehicles are basically modified trucks. America knows how to make trucks and how to make a lot of them. As I said before, this is not rocket science. If we buy it, they will build it.

What if they cannot? What if industry can only get 15,000 or 20,000 of the 23,000 we need built by the end of fiscal year 2008? Well, I tell my colleagues, than we will know that we gave them every chance to succeed. More important, we gave our soldiers and marines their best chance to survive this war.

And the downside is simply that all of the funds we provide cannot be spent in 1 year and all of the vehicles cannot be purchased. In that situation, all we have to do is authorize reprogramming the unspent funds for the next fiscal year. Compared to taking a chance on saving our kids, that is an easy downside to accept.

I opened by saying that this was a very expensive amendment, and it is. Let me be clear. It provides $23.6 billion for Army MRAPs, enough money to buy the 15,200 the commanders in the field are asking for. The amount is based on the last cost estimate I was given by the Pentagon on July 9. The amendment also provides an additional $1 billion that I have been told is needed for the purchase of 7,774 MRAPs currently planned for and funded in this bill. The increased funds are needed for airlift, training, and maintenance costs not originally included in the program budget.

In addition, the amendment provides $400 million for EFP protection. Half is to field 200 of the vehicles already tested and half is for the joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization to continue to work on and field better vehicles. The Bull may not be the perfect answer, but it gives us a chance to save American lives today. While we work on the perfect solution, an MRAP with EFP protection, we should still be giving our soldiers and marines the best we have today. The military needs to see if the Bull can provide full MRAP protection. They also need to look at other ideas for improving MRAPs, but while they do, we should take advantage of the proven technology we have at hand.

Last, this amendment asks Secretary Gates to report back to us within 30 days on any legal authorities he needs to produce and field these protective vehicles faster.

Let me also clarify what we are adding these funds to. The Armed Services Committee added $4.1 billion to the President's initial request for a mere $441 million for MRAPs in this bill. At the time, that was all that was thought to be needed to meet the 7,774 requirement and I applaud the committee for meeting that need. The situation has changed since the bill came out of committee. We now know that the Army commanders on the ground want far more. We cannot get such a large order produced if we continue to delay.

For me, this is very simple. I believe that when our sons and daughters are getting blown up and we have vehicles proven to dramatically improve their odds of survival, we must get the vehicles to them. This amendment allows us to do that. When the Senate returns to debate on the Defense Authorization Act, I hope all of my colleagues will support it.

Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to have the article to which I referred printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

[From USA Today, July 16, 2007]

Pentagon Balked at Pleas From Officers in Field for Safer Vehicles
(By Peter Eisler, Blake Morrison and Tom Vanden Brook)

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