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U.S. military officials have tapped a way to deliver hundreds of warfighting vehicles by sea to Iraq.

Sealift Logistics Command Europe awarded a contract of nearly $1.4 million to America Cargo Transport Corp. to deliver 55 South African RG-31s and other combat equipment to U.S. forces in the Middle East using a unique barge/tug combination called the ITB Thunder/Lightning.

It will take roughly two weeks to sail from South Africa to Kuwait, cutting down on delays associated with airlifting the mine-resistant vehicles into Iraq.

“This is one of the first large- scale sealift deliveries of mine-resistant vehicles and the first time MRAP-like vehicles have been loaded” using assets from the European theater, said Chief Petty Officer Pawel Oscik, cargo operations specialist with Sealift Logistics Command Europe.

The RG-31s have V-shaped hulls and high suspension with much of the same protection as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs.

The barge part of the ITB Thunder/Lightning provides the “container” for rapid roll-on, roll-off capability of the vehicles, while the tug is the propulsion, Oscik said.

Once in Kuwait, the RG-31s will be flown into Iraq instead of trucked to speed up the process, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said in a Nov. 28 news conference.

Military Sealift Command operates more than 110 noncombatant civilian-crewed ships that deliver combat equipment to troops, strategically pre-position combat cargo at sea around the world, and resupply Navy ships at sea.

In addition to the 55 RG-31s, a commercial cargo ship left Naval Weapons Station Charleston, S.C., on Nov. 30 with more than 100 vehicles bound for troops in Iraq.

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