The political circus that has surrounded the procurement of mine-resistant armored vehicles for troops in Iraq comes as no surprise. It is vet another reminder of how the military continues to be shortchanged by the Bush administration's determination to not let the war get in the way of business as usual.
First came the shortage of body armor, followed by inadequate quantities of armored humvees and insufficient numbers of bomb-jamming devices. Before the war, none of these items was in mass production and it took about two years to ramp up the industrial base to meet the demand.
The latest example is the mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP,, which had an assembly line that produced 15 trucks per month up until a year ago. The services say they need thousands.
Following a wave of media coverage and congressional griping about the Pentagon's perceived slow response to the MRAP shortages, Defense Secretary Robert Gates created a special "task force" to accelerate the production of vehicles.
But even under the best-case scenario, it will take 18 to 24 months to fill the requests from deployed commanders--possibly too little, too late if a drawdown begins next year. Asked why the Pentagon didn't start buying vehicles sooner, officials point out that nobody could have predicted how much more lethal roadside bombs in Iraq would become.
Regardless of how slowly (or quickly, depending on whom you ask) the Pentagon reacted to the MRAP crisis, the controversy speaks volumes about how the military is fighting a war while the rest of the country remains comfortably unburdened. MRAPs, by the Pentagon's own account, are just trucks I hulking boxes that South African firms have been building for three decades.
But up until three months ago, the United States only had one "warm" production line for MRAPs. That one company, Force Protection Inc., was too small to handle large orders and had to partner with bigger defense contractors to expand production. Other manufacturers are setting up assembly lines, but the process will be anything but smooth.
"To be clear, in virtually every case, the MRAP companies will face challenges in increasing their rates of production, which means qualifying suppliers, increasing supply and manufacturing capacity, hiring and training workers and providing manufacturing facilities," said John Young, who chairs the Pentagon's MRAP task force. "We may encounter manufacturing, spare parts, and maintenance issues as...