The San Diego Union-Tribune

September 2, 2001

Marines fast-track Mercedes purchase
Utility vehicles costly but practical


WASHINGTON -- The Marines, who take pride in being a historically
low-budget outfit that frequently operates with old, hand-me-down
equipment, are driving around these days in new Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

But they aren't the luxury sedans for which the German automaker is famous.
Instead, the Marines are operating small, clunky-looking utility vehicles that
were acquired rapidly in a demonstration of new commercial business
practices at the Pentagon.

They come with a luxury car price tag, however, costing $73,000 each, the
Marines said.

The program to buy the Interim Fast Attack Vehicle "set a new high-bar
standard for Marine Corps rapid acquisition," said Lt. Col. Thomas F.
Manley, program manager for transport equipment at the Marine Corps
Systems Command.

Pentagon officials and outside critics have tried for years to convert the
military from its cumbersome procurement system, which increases the time
and cost of bringing equipment into use.

Purchase of the Mercedes vehicle was completed in about two months,
compared to five years for a similar buy through the normal acquisition
system, the Marines said. They were obtained through a competitive bid
process that required a commercial, off-the-shelf machine that could be ready for use quickly.

"The project team had to embrace rapid commercial contracting and market
standards," Manley said.

The Marine vehicles are modified versions of a commercially available
Mercedes light truck. The basic vehicles were built in Austria and adapted for military use by the Advanced Vehicle Systems of Washington, D.C., a
contractor for Daimler-Chrysler.

The Marine versions are a cross between a World War II-vintage jeep and a
mini-pickup truck. The rear-seat area has a pedestal, to accommodate a
variety of heavy weapons, and brackets to hold cases of ammunition.

The vehicles were hurried to deploying combat units as a replacement for the
M151 jeeps, which have been notoriously unreliable, hard to maintain and
prone to roll.

The first of the 92 Mercedes the Marines obtained were sent to a Marine
expeditionary unit at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, which helped work
out some of the bugs. They since have been deployed with expeditionary units in California and on Okinawa.

In an article in the latest Marine Corps Gazette, a young officer who took
the first vehicles on deployment was generally complimentary.

The new vehicle has "many strong characteristics giving it a great advantage
over the M151," 1st Lt. David C. Emmel said. He particularly praised its
"ease of maintenance, reliable performance and available parts."

In nine deployments by different units, the vehicles have averaged 99 percent
availability and only $30 in maintenance expenses, Manley said.

Emmel had a number of complaints about the vehicles his unit tested, many of
which were caused by using a civilian-style vehicle in a military environment.

But Manley said most of those problems have been corrected in a fast
response by the contractor.

A permanent replacement for existing vehicles is being pursued under a
program called the Internally Transportable Vehicle. Using more normal
acquisition methods, the vehicles are not expected for three more years.