Congress Clears Leahy-Led Boost For Next Generation Of Armored Vehicles Engineered For The Tough Terrain Of Afghanistan

The U.S. Senate late Thursday passed and now will send to the President a funding bill that reflects a push by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to boost development of tougher and more agile armored vehicles and other equipment needed by U.S. troops in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan.

The Senate approved the final Fiscal Year 2009 supplemental appropriations bill in a vote of 91 to 5.  As chairman of the Senate’s 96-member National Guard Caucus, Leahy worked with caucus co-chair Senator Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and others to secure an additional $500 million for Guard and Reserves equipment.  Gear purchased through this account allows the Guard to supply its units, including Vermont’s 86th Infantry Brigade (Mountain), with high-performance equipment from body armor to rifles and night-vision devices.  Leahy also is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, which wrote the Senate’s version of the bill, and of the panel’s Defense Subcommittee.

The bill also includes an additional $1.9 billion sought by Leahy to accelerate the fielding of the so-called MRAP-All-Terrain-Vehicle program – a new version of the highly armored vehicle that is being specially designed to operate in Afghanistan’s rugged geography.  The Department of Defense has accelerated development of the MRAP-ATV with the goal of shipping the first units to Afghanistan as soon as the end of this year.  

Leahy worked closely with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Defense Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) to ensure full funding is available for this new version of the MRAP, which will have independent suspension and a lower center-of-gravity while keeping the same level of protection as the original version of the MRAP, which Leahy said has saved countless lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The additional funding secured by Leahy and his allies will bring the total amount in the bill for all types of MRAPs to $4.5 billion.

Visiting U.S. troops last month in Afghanistan and Iraq, Leahy came away further convinced of the need for the improved armored vehicle – especially in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan.  Vermont National Guard troops are expected to be deployed to Afghanistan next year.

When Leahy returned he assured Vermont Adjutant General Michael Dubie that Leahy would do all he could to make sure the Vermont Guard has the resources they need.  “I heard from top commanders and troops alike about how important the MRAP vehicles are to our operations,” said Leahy.  “These improvements will make it a better match for the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan.  The Defense Department now will have more resources to get this next generation armored vehicle into production and into use by our troops.  I hope it will be fielded widely in the country before, during and after our Vermonters begin arriving there.”

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