(Adds shipping details in paragraph 8-9)
By Kristin Roberts
WASHINGTON, Aug 22 (Reuters) - U.S. troops in Iraq will receive at least 1,000 fewer special armored vehicles than expected this year due to the amount of time needed for shipment, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the Defense Department expected defense contractors to produce 3,900 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles this year. But only 1,500 would make it to the war zone -- down from the Pentagon’s previous shipment target of 2,500 to 3,000.
“If we could get 1,500 to theater by the end of this year, that would be a positive development,” Morrell said.
The new goal of 1,500 was first reported by Stars & Stripes, the newspaper for troops overseas that is partially funded by the Defense Department.
The MRAP vehicle is one of the Pentagon’s top acquisition priorities and the Defense Department’s aim has been to buy as many as can be produced. It follows years of criticism directed at the Pentagon for not providing adequate armor to troops.
The MRAPs’ V-shaped hull is designed to protect occupants from roadside bombs, which have killed many U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Morrell said it takes about 50 days to equip and ship a finished MRAP into the war zone. That includes 15 days for equipping and 35 for transport by ship.
The Pentagon was already flying some MRAPs to the war zone, Morrell said.
But given the numbers to be produced, it will quickly become more cost effective to send them by ship, he said, noting November and December would be the highest production months to date.
Morrell said he did not know which units in Iraq would be affected by the production shortfall this year.
MRAP contractors include:
-- Navistar International Corp.’s NAVZ.PK International Military and Government LLC;
-- a General Dynamics Canadian unit;
-- BAE Systems Plc BA.L;
-- Oshkosh Truck Corp. (OSK.N);
-- closely held Protected Vehicles Inc. of North Charleston, South Carolina;