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ARLINGTON, Va. — The first lighter versions of MRAP vehicles for Afghanistan should be fielded beginning in October, said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, who is in charge of procuring the vehicles for all of the services.

The Defense Department awarded a contract for 2,244MRAP All-Terrain Vehicleson Tuesday to Oshkosh Corporation.

After the vehicles are built, it will take an extra 30 days to get them ready to ship to Afghanistan, said Brogan, head of Marine Corps Systems Command.

Initially, the M-ATVs will be flown to Afghanistan, which will pose a challenge because with extra troops going there.

"We are flowing additional forces into Afghanistan right now, Army brigade combat teams as well as Marines units, and so the air bridge into Afghanistan is completely full," Brogan said.

Officials hope to transition to sending large quantities of M-ATVs by ship "as soon as we can," he said.

MRAPs have proven to withstand blasts from roadside bombs better than Humvees, but Afghanistan lacks Iraq’s road network, limiting where the vehicles can go.

M-ATVs are meant to be light enough to go off-road while maintaining the V-shaped hull that provides protection against blasts from underneath.

In June, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council approved a total of 5,244 M-ATVs for U.S. troops and testing, including 2,598 for the Army and 1,565 for the Marine Corps, said Defense Department spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin. The military has yet to award contracts for the remaining 3,000 vehicles.

All of theM-ATVs are expected to be built by the end of March 2010, Brogan said.

M-ATVs are smaller than other MRAPs and they carry fewer servicemembers, allowing them to be lighter than MRAPs that troops use now, said Andy Hove of Oshkosh Corporation.

“But the testing of this was the same testing for survivability that the MRAPs went through,” Hove said.

The vehicles can carry up to five servicemembers and weigh less than 25,000 pounds, he said. They will also have an independent suspension system that will allow them to go off road into areas that conventional MRAPs cannot venture.

Oshkosh plans to increase production of M-ATVs from about three a day now to about 1,000 per month in five months, Hove said; The first vehicles are expected to be delivered to the government this month.

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