No one has ever been killed riding in the 31,000-pound 'Cougar.' But only a few hundred are in service.
One senior officer calls it a "moral imperative," and others see it as a no-brainer, but four years into a deadly war, there are only some 350 blast-resistant trucks protecting US troops in Iraq. Officials inside and outside the military want to know why.
When it comes to safeguarding troops against roadside bombs, the top killer in Iraq, the new must-have truck is an MRAP – a Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected vehicle.
It's a hulking machine, at 31,000 pounds, with a 'V'-shaped hull that diverts blasts away from the carriage – and the troops riding inside. No one has ever been killed riding in one version of the vehicle, called a Cougar.
So why aren't thousands of the trucks, first available in 2003, in Iraq?
"How is it possible that with our nation at war, with more than 130,000 Americans in danger, with roadside bombs destroying a growing number of lives and limbs, we were so slow to act to protect our troops?" asked Sen. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware in a letter Tuesday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The answers to Senator Biden's question illustrate how hard it can be for the government – and the private sector – to respond to urgent battlefield needs while weighing legitimate concerns about how government contracts are awarded and production lines are cranked up. In the case of the MRAP, the process has been especially slow and tangled.
In 2004, a year after the invasion of Iraq, the insurgency was mounting and roadside bombs were killing American troops. The conventional thinking about how to protect troops was to field "up-armored" Humvees. At the time, the insurgency didn't look as if it would go on much longer, so there was no need to invest in a new vehicle, and the Humvee already had an established industrial base.
But the enemy was adapting, placing roadside bombs in such a way to cause blasts that ripped through the underside of vehicles, causing casualties.