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WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps will replace all its up-armored Humvees in Iraq with Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles by 2009 if Congress approves additional money for the equipment, service officials announced Tuesday.

The Corps already had planned by the end of this year to build and deploy 1,022 of the vehicles. Also know as MRAPs, they are larger vehicles with heavier armor than the Humvee and with V-shaped hulls to deflect the force of bomb blasts.

But Lt. Gen. Emerson Gardner Jr., deputy commandant of the Corps for programs and resources, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the service now wants 2,700 more of the vehicles to replace the Humvees in Iraq on a one-to-one basis.

“These vehicles are big, heavy and expensive,” he said. “But we know the payoff was great. Our experience is that Marines in these vehicles are four to five times safer than a Marine in an armored Humvee.”

Gardner said the Corps can put MRAPs into Iraq as early as this summer, and field the entire 3,700-plus vehicle order by the end of 2008, if Congress can provide money for the equipment in the next few months.

The fiscal 2007 budget includes about $2 billion for more than 4,000 MRAPs for the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

The Marines original order of 1,022 will cost about $600 million, and raising that number to 3,700 will cost another $2.8 billion. Gardner said the extra money would pay for both the additional vehicles needed and quicker production.

In all, the military would spend nearly $5 billion to buy about 6,700 of the heavily armored vehicles over the next two years.

Army officials have said the MRAPs will not be used to replace their up-armored Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that the larger vehicles are meant to give commanders in Iraq more equipment options for their missions.

On Tuesday they echoed that position, saying they have no plans for a one-to-one replacement of Humvees in theater.

Currently, the Marines have 65 of the MRAPs in Iraq, mostly Cougar and Buffalo trucks used by bomb disposal crews. The Army has 140 such vehicles being used for similar missions.

The Corps’ new plan drew praise from the committee, but the members had concerns about where the funding would come from and when the service would need it. Still, Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., said the V-bottomed vehicles are long-overdue and “essential to the Corps’ warfighting ability.”

Gardner said he does not view the MRAPs as a long-term solution for the Corps.

“We’re not constraining this in any way to make it fit on ships or to meet any of our expeditionary aspects,” he said. “We’re buying it for the war in Iraq, and this threat.”

Last week, Corps officials announced plans to speed up the development of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, designed to replace the Humvee for both the Army and Marines. The Corps hopes to begin fielding that vehicle in fiscal 2009, and make it the service’s primary combat vehicle by fiscal 2013.

Stars and Stripes reporter Jeff Schogol contributed to this story.

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