Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles are specifically designed to protect against blast and shrapnel from mines and mine-like explosive devices. The vehicles have demonstrated a remarkable ability to protect troops from the blast effects of IEDs.
Engineered with a V-shaped hull, high ground clearance, and heavy armor, the MRAP design deflects the blast away from the passenger compartment far more capably than the Humvee. Attracted by the MRAP’s obvious benefits, some members of Congress and at least one senior US commander began calling for the wholesale replacement of Humvees with MRAPs. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has authorized what amounts to the crash production and fielding of MRAPs.
This desire to provide US troops in the field with the best protection available is understandable. Yet the MRAP is not likely to prove a panacea for the IED threat. There are a number of issues that must be considered in determining the proper mix of armored vehicles for the US military’s ground forces.
For example, the protection provided by MRAPs comes at a price. Whereas a latest-generation Humvee costs approximately $150,000, and its planned successor is estimated to run $250,000, MRAPs average $800,000 or more per vehicle.
To those who argue that price is no object when it comes to protecting US troops, there are likely other costs to be incurred as well. For example, the MRAPs are two- to five-times heavier than Humvees. This translates into greater fuel requirements, which means putting more fuel convoys on the roads—convoys that must risk IED attacks against their thinly armored supply vehicles.
Counter-intuitively, it may also be that a better way to reduce overall US casualties is to have personnel operate outside their vehicles. Successful counterinsurgency (COIN) operations, in particular, require close contact with the local population to provide them with security and to develop a working knowledge of the local environment that, together, produces the intelligence necessary to defeat an insurgent enemy force. This approach is similar to law enforcement techniques that emphasize policemen “walking the beat” in a neighborhood as opposed to merely driving through it in a squad car. Simply put, commanders may have to risk some casualties in the near term, by having their troops dismount, in order to develop the secure environment that yields the intelligence that will reduce the insurgent threat—and US casualties—over the longer term. Given this approach, which is consistent with the military’s new COIN doctrine, the MRAP—at least in this situation—may send the wrong message to troops in the field.
Moreover, to the extent secure areas are created as a consequence of US COIN operations, the threat posed by IED attacks can be expected to decline. As this occurs, the risks to troops moving about in combat vehicles will decline, reducing the need for heavily armored vehicles.
As US troops move away from simply driving through unsecured areas (“Driving around Baghdad,” or “dabbing” as the troops call it) and get down to the serious business of executing COIN doctrine by progressively securing one area after another, the need for heavily armored vehicles should decline.
There are also temporal factors that must be considered. There is widespread discussion regarding the reduction of US troop levels in Iraq, beginning perhaps as early as the end of 2007. Some members of Congress, and some candidates running for the presidency, are advocating large-scale US troop reductions over the next few years. If this comes to pass, it may be that just as MRAP production begins rising, US troop levels will be falling.
This leads to the question of the MRAP’s life span, which may easily extend a decade or longer. Consequently, any decision for mass production must be informed not only by the conflict environment in Iraq, but also the challenges posed by anticipated future contingencies. For example:
-- The US military has become increasingly expeditionary since the Cold War’s end, meaning fewer forces are permanently stationed abroad and so must be transported to the scene of action. Yet MRAPs are far heavier than the armored vehicles they are replacing. The heavier a force is, the longer it takes to deploy. How does the Pentagon plan on “squaring the circle” here?
-- How does the MRAP fare as a member of a mix of ground combat force armored vehicles in addressing emerging challenges at the operational level of war (i.e., the level at which military campaigns, or operations, are conducted)? Do MRAPs provide a good (let alone optimal) capability in power-projection operations against the full range of ground force contingencies?
-- What are the opportunity costs involved in the crash production and large-scale fielding of MRAPs? Simply put, since a defense dollar can only be spent one time on one priority, what priorities will not be met as a consequence of the shift to MRAPs?
In summary, there are no easy answers to defeating the IED threat or for protecting American troops from harm in what are inherently dangerous operations. The reality is that US forces will, at times, have to put themselves at risk in order to destroy enemy forces, protect noncombatants, or keep warring parties apart long enough for political solutions to be found and implemented. All the while the enemy will constantly be searching for ways to frustrate these efforts and inflict as many casualties as possible on US troops.
Armored vehicles will almost certainly play a major role in ground combat operations over the foreseeable future, and MRAPs will likely play a significant role in many operations. However, the relative mix of light, medium, and heavy armored vehicles required for the Iraq battlefield, and for other potential contingencies, has yet to be determined.
While MRAPs provide increased protection to light infantry forces, the stated intent to improve force protection dramatically by replacing Humvees (and other light utility vehicles) with MRAPs may have negative repercussions on the ability of US ground forces to accomplish their operational objectives, both in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and in future contingencies.
Given the human and materiel costs at stake, a thorough analysis of this issue, one that addresses the factors noted above, should be undertaken at the earliest opportunity in order to better inform the decision to mass produce the MRAP. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full report, on the CSBA website (79 pages in PDF format).