February 27, 2008 – Washington, DC – An investigation into allegations the Marine Corps delayed sending blast-resistant trucks to Iraq also will examine whether the Marines were negligent in delivering a laser to divert drivers and people from checkpoints and convoys, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press.
Marines on the front lines sought the tool, known as a Compact High Power Laser Dazzler, but stateside acquisition officials did not deliver it, a civilian Marine Corps official said. A less capable laser was eventually sent, but delays of nearly 18 months may have led to an untold number of Iraqi civilian casualties, according to allegations by the official, an internal critic whose claims are being investigated.
The deaths and injuries occurred when civilians mistaken as the enemy got too close to guarded areas and U.S. troops lacked a nondeadly way of forcing them away, according to the official. The Iraqi government has complained about such incidents in the past.
The dazzler emits a powerful stream of green light that stops or redirects oncoming traffic by temporarily impairing the driver’s vision. Without it, troops have to open fire when warning signals are ignored or not seen.
The Marine Corps has stressed that the allegations made by the official, Franz Gayl, reflect his personal views. Gayl’s conclusions stem from a series of case studies he was conducting for the Marine Corps plans, policies and operations department about the wartime acquisition system.
Gayl has been ordered to terminate the project, however, according to Adam Miles of the Government Accountability Project in Washington. Gayl filed for whistleblower protection last year.
The AP reported Monday that the Marine Corps had asked the Pentagon inspector general to look into Gayl’s charges that a nearly two-year lag in the fielding of mine-resistant, ambush-protected trucks (MRAPs) resulted in hundreds of Marines being killed or injured by roadside bombs.
A Feb. 20 memo from Gen. Robert Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, to the Pentagon inspector general requests that the dazzler allegations also be investigated.
The memo, obtained Tuesday evening by AP, notes that a Naval Audit Service review of the system for rapidly shipping needed gear to be deployed was recently completed. The Marine Corps has said that audit found shortcomings and fixes are being made.
Gayl’s charges are related to “human interaction and motivation” within the acquisition system, Magnus said.
After the Naval Audit Service began its review, “allegations surfaced that the Marine Corps had not acted with alacrity in responding to the needs of deployed units, and specifically that mismanagement on the part of Marine officials cost Marine lives by not acquiring (MRAP) vehicles or laser dazzlers in a timely fashion,” Magnus wrote.
Lt. Gen. John Castellaw, the deputy commandant for programs and resources, told the AP on Wednesday that the Marine Corps’ top priority is to get the best gear to troops in combat as quickly as possible. The Marine leadership takes Gayl’s allegations seriously, he said.
“We want to know the truth,” Castellaw said, speaking ahead of a hearing on the Marine Corps’ budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
“We will cooperate fully (and) openly,” Castellaw told members of the House Armed Services subcommittee on seapower and expeditionary forces when asked about the IG investigation.
Castellaw said he and Magnus have read Gayl’s studies “cover to cover.”
“The Marine Corps has not muzzled this individual,” Castellaw said.
Gayl is free to produce further studies, the general told the panel, but his work on the MRAP project has ended.
Also Wednesday, four senators called on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to open a wider investigation that examines the wartime procurement practices of all the military branches.
“It is difficult to reform while engaged in the fight, but we believe we must if we are going to win the fight,” wrote Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del., Kit Bond, R-Mo., Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
Gayl, a retired Marine officer, is the science and technology adviser to Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski, who heads the plans, policies and operations department.
Gayl completed a case study on the Compact High Power Laser Dazzler on Feb. 14. In it, he notes that Marines stationed in western Iraq filed an urgent request for the tool in June 2005. And he said that the 2005 request and subsequent calls for the dazzler were not met.
“The urgency of the operational need for dazzlers was not debatable, since the tragedies it was designed to mitigate had already been experienced,” Gayl wrote.
Marines in Iraq became so frustrated at the delays they bypassed normal acquisition procedures and used money from their own budget to buy 28 of the dazzlers directly from LE Systems, a small company in Hartford, Conn., according to Gayl. The dazzlers cost about $8,000 each.
But because the lasers had not passed a safety review process, stateside authorities barred the Marines from using them, his report states. There were also questions raised about whether the LE Systems could build sufficient numbers of the dazzlers. LE Systems has said it could meet the demand.
In January 2007, nearly 18 months after the first request, Gayl said the Marines received a less capable laser warning device built by a different company, B.E. Meyers of Redmond, Wash.
Gen. James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, told members of Congress in July 2007 that a “great deal of effort was made” to meet the specific request for the dazzler from LE Systems. The B.E. Meyers laser, he added, has been well received by troops in Iraq.
As for the blast-resistant trucks, Gayl’s Jan. 22 report on the MRAP accused the Marine Corps of “gross mismanagement.” Cost was a driving factor in the decision to turn down a February 2005 “urgent” request from battlefield commanders for the so-called MRAPs, he said. Depending on the size of the vehicle and how it is equipped, the trucks can cost between $450,000 and $1 million.
Senior Marine Corps officers have said the defense industry lacked the capacity to build MRAPs in large numbers when the 2005 request was made. The best answer to the deadly roadside bombs planted by insurgents was to produce more heavily armored Humvees, they said.
Lt. Gen. James Amos, head of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command at Quantico, Va., said young Marines in Iraq had more confidence in the bolstered Humvee, known as the M1114, than any other vehicle.
“There was not one word spoken. Not a backward glance. Not a raised eyebrow for any other reason,” Amos said of a meeting of Marine generals in 2005 when the decision was made. “The threat dictated at that time that we buy the (M1114).”
When it became clear that a heavier vehicle was needed to deal with increasingly powerful bombs, the Marines pursued the MRAP.
The Humvee is smaller and lacks the MRAP’s special V-shaped hull, which deflects a blast out and away from the vehicle. MRAPs also ride three feet off the ground, allowing more room for the explosion to dissipate.