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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 9, 2006

Purchase of revamped jeeps stirs debate

USA Today

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WASHINGTON The Marine Corps is paying $100,000 apiece for a revamped Vietnam-era jeep as part of its program to outfit the hybrid airplane-helicopter V-22 Osprey, Pentagon records show.

That's seven times what a commercial version of the vehicle costs. It's also three times what U.S. Export-Import Bank records show the Dominican Republic paid four years ago for a military version of the vehicle, called the Growler, a recycled version of the M-151 jeep.

The Marines and the contractor, General Dynamics, say the vehicle has been thoroughly revised with modern automotive parts and adapted to fit on the V-22.

"Yes, it did start off with jeep technology and it does look like a jeep in a lot of ways," says John Garner, the Marines project manager, but it's now "state of the art."

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group that monitors Pentagon contracts, says taxpayers are getting a deal that "stinks" on an unarmored vehicle that makes no sense for today's missions, in which troops face ambushes and roadside bombs.

"In a time of war, we should not be wasting money on a junker which will not protect our troops," Brian says. Under current military safety rules, the Growler would be barred from service in Iraq except as a utility vehicle that doesn't leave the security of a base.

The Marines have budgeted to buy more than 400 Growlers, along with a French mortar and ammunition that it would tow, under a contract that could total $296 million.

The Growler beat two other vehicles for the contract, Garner says.

Built by Ocala, Fla.-based American Growler, the original Growler is made partly from salvaged M-151 jeep parts and is available in several versions for as little as $7,500 in kit form. At the high end, there's a $14,500 upgraded "tactical dune buggy" with a "bikini top."

The Marines' version has considerable upgrades from the commercial and Dominican Republic models, the Corps and contractor say, including a turbo-diesel engine, disc brakes and other systems adapted from modern vehicles.

"It's not your grandfather's jeep," says Kendell Pease, a General Dynamics spokesman.

The goal of the program is to give Marines a vehicle and mortar they can quickly drive off from a V-22 after it lands in a combat situation.

The Osprey is a twin-engine airplane that turns its rotors up for vertical takeoff and landing like a helicopter.

Under development since 1986, the V-22 is scheduled to go into service in 2007. It has a history of technical problems and several fatal crashes, including two in 2000 that killed 23 Marines. The Growler is expected to be deployed with the V-22 in 2007, Pease says.