Under the impact of the past World War II, the ongoing Korean War and the smoldering Cold War, the US Army Transportation Corps saw the need for a diesel locomotive that could be used almost anywhere in Eurasia in the event of war. Thus in 1952 the order for 13 such locomotives each went to EMD and General Electric. The requirements included a 1,600 hp loco that had a smaller loading gauge generally usable in Europe and an axle load that was lower than the typical axle loads of American locos. In addition, the gauge of the bogies was to be changeable. Although it was not intended to be used on narrow-gauge routes, the Soviet gauge (4 ft 27/32 in), the Iberian gauge (5 ft 5 21/32 in) and the Indian gauge (5 ft 6 in) were to be covered in addition to the standard gauge (8 ft 8 1/2 in).
Like its competitor, the EMD locomotive was given the designation MRS-1, which stood for “Military Road Switcher 1”. The special requirements and the changeable track drove the costs far up, which reached almost half a million dollars per locomotive. Since EMD lost the competition, the 13 sample pieces remained. Two locomotives were taken to Manitoba and Alaska to test diesel locomotive operation in arctic conditions. One example made it to Europe, being used extensively in West Germany, France and Belgium for training, testing and promotional purposes. In Belgium, this led to the purchase of the EMD locomotives built under license by NOHAB. The remaining locos spent most of their lives in storage in preparation for war. When the Pentagon's new doctrine focused more on moving material by air and made the diesel locomotives obsolete, they were removed from storage in 1970 and allocated to military sites.