The Pentagon is fast-tracking a multibillion-dollar competition to outfit ground forces in Afghanistan with new, off-road terrain vehicles that protect against rocket-propelled grenades and explosive devices. The US military says it needs hybrid armored vehicles to provide the same type of protection as mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, while being far more agile, lighter and providing increased maneuverability to handle Afghanistan's rocky terrain, according to a request for bids released late Monday. "This is a high priority accelerated acquisition in support of the global war on terror," according to the Pentagon request, which means manufacturers would have to set aside other projects to meet the military's demand as soon as possible. The first set of vehicles is expected to be delivered next fall. The Defence Department said it could buy between 2,080 and 10,000 of the so-called MRAP-All Terrain Vehicles for use by the Army and Marines Corps. Among the companies likely to compete for the contract are: the US subsidiary of British defense conglomerate BAE Systems PLC, Lockheed Martin Corp, Humvee maker AM General and Navistar International Corp. The Pentagon has spent roughly USD 24 billion so far on the current MRAP program. This latest batch of vehicles requested by the Pentagon would be in addition to the more than 1,100 MRAPs already in Afghanistan, and the nearly 9,000 in Iraq, which have been built by General Dynamics Corp, Force Protection Inc and others. Blasts from roadside bombs are the leading cause of combat deaths in Iraq and have become a growing threat in Afghanistan.