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For Marines, fewer bombproof trucks

Corps trims its request for MRAPs by nearly 40 percent. Is the need for them in Iraq still as pressing?

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The Marine Corps is making a major cut in the number of bombproof vehicles it is buying, a surprise move that underscores how much safer Iraq has become in recent months and the Corps' own changing assessment of the vehicles' limitations.

On Thursday, Commandant Gen. James Conway, the Corps' top officer, submitted to a Pentagon procurement body his recommendation to cut by almost 40 percent the number of Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected vehicles he will buy, from 3,700 MRAPs to about 2,225.

The decision is bound to be controversial – and to spur debate in Washington about why the United States is spending billions to buy thousands of the mammoth vehicles even as security in Iraq is looking much improved from a year ago, when the American public and Congress first rallied behind the life-saving program.

Conway's move is not likely to affect the Army's purchase of the vehicles, at least for now, defense officials say. But it could raise questions about the kinds of MRAPs the Pentagon is buying and have reverberations within the industry that's been building the trucks at a furious pace.

Earlier this year, the Marine Corps had planned to buy 3,700 of the vehicles at nearly $1 million apiece, all to be contracted by early 2008 and sent to the field soon thereafter. The Corps already has contracted for all the MRAPs it wants, so General Conway's move in effect ends future contracting for the service.

"There have been some things that have happened since then that is causing us to rethink a little bit what the total number ought to be," Conway said during a recent trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. "You combine the reduction in attacks with the fact that we're therefore not losing as many vehicles as we thought, with the fact that we're finding them not as capable off-road as we thought ... that all leads us now to believe that the number [of MRAPs] is something less then 3,700."

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