WASHINGTON– Senior Defense Department officials today showcased a more agile, downsized version of the military’s family of super-armored vehicles now arriving in Afghanistan.

Because Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain requires a more agile vehicle than the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles used in Iraq, the MRAP vehicle was modified to produce a lighter, all-terrain vehicle known as the M-ATV, said Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

The new vehicles will replace up-armored Humvees.

Like the version used in Iraq, the new trucks feature armor and V-shaped hulls to deflect roadside-bomb blasts, Carter. M-ATVs “will similarly be a live-saver in Afghanistan,” he added.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates pushed to develop the new vehicle quickly, Carter said, noting the first production order was provided to Wisconsin-based manufacturer Oshkosh Corp. in June. Vehicles already are arriving in Afghanistan, Carter said, noting he has test-driven an M-ATV. “These are superior vehicles,” he told reporters.

The military is planning to buy more than 6,500 M-ATVs, Carter said, with about 690 having been accepted.

“We will continue to make changes in the MRAP-ATV as we get feedback from soldiers [on] how to improve it,” Carter said.

U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan are training with the first 41 M-ATVs that have arrived there, said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command at Quantico, Va. Marines, too, will get M-ATVs, he said.

The M-ATV weighs about 5 tons less that the 40,000-pound regular MRAP, Brogan said, noting the new vehicle also features an independent suspension and a shorter wheelbase to better negotiate Afghanistan’s rocky hills.

The M-ATV “was designed from the ground up to have mobility that’s roughly equivalent to an up-armored Humvee, yet retain the survivability features that are inherent in the baseline MRAP vehicles,” Brogan said. The major contributor to the M-ATV’s increased mobility, he said, is its four-wheel independent suspension.

“That’s what provides that off-road capability,” Brogan said, noting that the baseline MRAPs have rigid-axle suspensions that perform poorly on uneven, hilly terrain.

Meanwhile, Brogan said, early-production MRAPs, called “Cougars,” are being taken out of theater and having their rigid suspensions replaced with suspensions better-suited for Afghanistan’s lack of roads and challenging geography.

Brogan noted differences between the terrain in Iraq and that in Afghanistan. “The terrain in Afghanistan is significantly more formidable,” he said. There is far less infrastructure, and that infrastructure that does exist is more austere.”

The base cost for the M-ATV is about $437,000 per vehicle. As fitted with the necessary equipment for deployment, each vehicle costs about $1.4 million, shipping to Afghanistan included, Brogan said.

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