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Corps doubles the number of MRAPS it will keep

May. 1, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Agriculture Wash
The Marine Corps intends to keep about 2,500 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, almost twice as many as planned just a few months ago. (Cpl. Dustin D. March/Marine Corps)
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In a move that reflects a changing Marine Corps mission increasingly focused on global crisis response, service officials have decided to double the number of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles the Corps will keep following the end of fighting in Afghanistan.

The Marine Corps now plans to keep 2,500 MRAPs, said Lt. Gen. William Faulkner, deputy commandant for installations and logistics, rather than the 1,230 they had originally planned to retain. That decision, he said, was reached less than two months ago at the behest of Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos.

“We revisited our number, and things had changed,” Faulkner told Marine Corps Times in an interview. “Over the last 12 months, as you know, [special-purpose Marine air ground task forces], every geographic combatant commander wants one. … Our commandant gave us some pretty specific guidance, and said ‘Hey, look, if we believe we have a requirement for this capability, which has been battle-tested and combat proven and saved a lot of Marines’ lives, I’d rather hold onto these items, get them reset and put them in an admin storage program, than dispose of them.’ ”

But because of its large size, weight and design for land operations, the MRAP has been seen as ill-suited for the Marine Corps’ pivot to the Asia-Pacific region and the amphibious missions there that the service has crafted for itself after 2014. The recent decision to keep more of the vehicles may signal a plan to focus more intensely on the African continent in coming years, a strategy that has become increasingly central to Marine Corps rhetoric.

Various Marine Corps officials, including Amos and Maj. Gen. Raymond Fox, commander of Marine Corps Forces Africa, have addressed the need for a crisis-response force in western Africa, either offshore in the Gulf of Guinea or land based in one or more countries.

Speaking at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Expo in National Harbor, Md., in early April, Amos outlined the plan to get a a crisis response unit forward-based in the region and highlighted potential flashpoints, from youth unrest to hunger.

“There’s a great need, as you look at the Gulf of Guinea and you go east — that part of central and south Africa — if something happens in that part of the world, then it will be very difficult for U.S. forces to get down there [without a base in Africa],” Amos said.

Marine officials also have announced plans to stand up SP-MAGTF Cent, a crisis response unit that would fall under U.S. Central Command and focus on missions within the Middle East.

The 14-ton MRAP, with its armored hull and built-in resistance to improvised explosive devices, was considered a life-saver when it was first deployed to Iraq in the mid-2000s under then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The vehicle also has been intrinsic to the Afghanistan mission; the Corps purchased more than 4,000 of the vehicles for the war zones and still maintains well over 3,000 in its inventory, with about 1,200 still in Afghanistan as of late last year.

Wherever MRAPS might be used in the future, the decision to keep more of them will require a revision of the Corps’ storage and disposition strategy as well.

Faulkner said the 2,500 MRAPs the Corps now intends to keep will be divided among prepositioning programs around the globe, including Kuwait; the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., where they would be used for training; and a Marine Corps long-term storage facility in Barstow, Calif.

The Marines don’t plan to destroy any functioning MRAPs remaining in Afghanistan, Faulkner said. Rather, they’re planning to reach agreements with partner countries to take about 400 vehicles that are unneeded, but still serviceable. While obstacles to this plan exist — the bureaucratic process of transferring the MRAPs can take 210 days or more to complete — Faulkner said the Corps is already in negotiations with an unnamed partner nation to divest 162 of the vehicles. Five or six other entities, he said, have also entered the pipeline to receive Marine Corps MRAPs.

While Marine officials have not identified potential recipients of the excess MRAPS, Military Times has reported that Afghanistan, Pakistan and India have all expressed interest in acquiring the vehicles. That list is somewhat controversial; some experts have expressed doubt over whether Afghan troops have the resources to maintain the costly vehicles, and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, has said that Pakistan will not receive any MRAPs from Afghanistan, though the country is reportedly in negotiations to obtain some 160 of the vehicles stored elsewhere.

But Faulkner asserts that process of distributing MRAPs to partner nations is “all goodness.”

“Not only does it help grow relationships between the U.S., Central Command and these other nations,” he said, “it helps build partner capacity.”

Editor’s Note: Inside Defense staffers have brought it to the attention of Marine Corps Times that ID had previously broken this news

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