Pentagon sees possible funding for lighter MRAP

WASHINGTON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - The Pentagon may include some “placeholder” funding in a supplemental war budget for fiscal 2009 that could be used for new mine-resistant trucks that could be sent to Afghanistan, the department’s chief weapons buyer said on Thursday.

Defense Undersecretary John Young said no decisions had been made, but military commanders were citing an urgent need for armored trucks that could be used in rugged terrain.

Some work is already under way to develop a lighter version of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles that were sent to troops in Iraq.

The Pentagon awarded a $752 million contract to Navistar Defense LLC, a unit of Navistar International Corp NAV.N, for 822 more mobile MRAPs to be used in Afghanistan.

Young gave no details about how many additional new “MRAP-light” vehicles could be ordered.

MRAPs generally feature a raised, V-shaped hull and armour plating designed to protect troops inside by deflecting blasts from roadside bombs and mines away from the vehicle.

Virginia-based defense analyst Jim McAleese said the Pentagon was likely to order a minimum of 2,000 trucks, and possibly up to 3,000, which could translate into billions of dollars.

One issue is whether the Pentagon would order all the trucks from one bidder or continue to order the trucks from multiple suppliers, McAleese said.

Young called the program “a work in progress” and said he would discuss it with Defense Secretary Robert Gates next week.

Before being appointed the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, Young oversaw the department’s effort to develop and build heavily armored trucks.

The Pentagon has spent more than $12 billion to ship some 9,300 MRAP vehicles to Iraq and Afghanistan.

MRAP contractors include Navistar; Force Protection IncFRPT.O, which is partnered with General Dynamics Corp GD.N; a Canadian unit of General Dynamics; BAE Systems BAES.L; Oshkosh Truck Corp OSK.N; and closely held Protected Vehicles Inc of South Carolina. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)