WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Defense Department said on Wednesday it would buy more than 6,600 of a new type of Oshkosh Corp (OSK.N)-built off-road armored trucks built for U.S. use in Afghanistan, and production was ahead of schedule.
Seven of the MRAP All-Terrain Vehicles, or M-ATV, were due to arrive in Afghanistan overnight in the first wave of deliveries from the ambitious production program, Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters.
At least 6,644 would go to U.S. forces in Afghanistan over the next year or so, making it one of the fastest and highest-priority acquisition programs in Defense Department history, he said.
Three months ago, Oshkosh received an initial order from the U.S. Army’s Tank-automotive and Armaments Command for 2,244 M-ATVs valued at just over $1 billion after beating out other truck makers.
To date, the Army has ordered a total of 4,296 M-ATVs from Oshkosh valued at $2.3 billion, Oshkosh said on September 14. A company representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Pentagon’s latest purchase plan.
Morrell told reporters Oshkosh was ahead of schedule on its monthly production rates.
“Obviously there is a huge ramp-up here and these are the easy months,” he said.
“These new vehicles are urgently needed because improvised explosive devices are claiming the lives of more U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan than ever before,” Morrell said.
Asked if he were confident Oshkosh would stay on schedule, he said: “We wouldn’t have awarded the contract to them if we weren’t confident in their ability to deliver on it, especially given that this is such a high priority for the secretary (of defense), for this department, for the war fighters.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been a big fan of the larger MRAP armored vehicle, used in Iraq and featuring a V-shaped hull to deflect the impact of roadside bombs. The versions used in Iraq were not maneuverable enough to deal with Afghanistan’s rugged, mountainous terrain, so the Pentagon has raced to get a lighter version to the troops.
Morrell said the Pentagon would monitor the production closely to make sure the company remained on target.
Oshkosh said this month it expected to meet the government’s accelerated delivery schedule without impacting its other work. It said production would ramp to 1,000 vehicles a month in December, continuing at that level through the end of March 2010.
Reporting by Adam Entous and Jim Wolf; Editing by Phil Berlowitz, Gary Hill