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Filling the MRAP Gaps

Equipping the Army with mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles in a short timeframe left us with doctrine, training, and sustainment gaps that now must be filled.

Fielding is providing a piece of equipment for the entire Army, generally through materiel acquisition processes as defined by the Army Acquisition Executive. Equipping, on the other hand, is providing equipment to a single unit for a single mission. While equipping is generally a much faster process than fielding, doctrine, training, and sustainment integration often does not occur concurrently with receipt of the system in the field. For some equipment, this is acceptable (metal-detecting wands for security checkpoints, for example), but sometimes it creates problems, especially in the long term.

As an example, the Department of Defense rapidly acquired mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) under non-program of record funding, out of urgency, without the accompanying integration. Training, maintenance, and doctrine development for MRAP use occurred on the fly after their issue.

The Secretary of Defense asked the Army to include MRAPs as part of its new modernization program, requiring a much greater "reverse-integration" effort. As a result, Army leaders must focus their efforts on developing doctrine, training, and sustainment strategies to support the successful integration of MRAPs into Army brigade combat teams (BCTs) and their supporting brigades.

Spartan Field Kitchen
(Photo by MAJ Christopher Lecron)

Doctrine

First, we must rapidly develop doctrine for the inclusion of MRAPs in the Army inventory. Field Manual (FM) 3–0, Operations, defines doctrine as "a body of thought on how Army forces intend to operate as an integral part of a joint force." Doctrine development is an important first step in the force management process and drives the development of materiel and nonmateriel solutions to address the needs of the warfighter. If MRAPs are to be fielded throughout the Army as a possible bridging strategy to our next ground combat platform, we must better define how MRAPs are intended to be used by military forces beyond counterinsurgency and stability operations.

Moreover, the use of the MRAP as a force protection mechanism may conflict with tactical operations that require interaction among the populace and exposure to the enemy. In a March 2006 report, the Defense Science Board argued—

Force protection must not interfere with the accomplishment of the mission or negatively impact on the political ties that bind the American people to their military. Above all, it must not lead to a garrison mentality or to a belief that hunkering down behind concertina wire and armor represents a serious effort to achieve mission completion. To do so would invariably rob U.S. forces of the ability to shape their battle space and understand how the enemy is operating. It would rob them of the capacity to perform effective counterinsurgency operations, which inevitably must involve operating in close contact with the civilian population.

In developing doctrine that incorporates MRAPs into the Army force structure, planners must ensure that they address the possible imbalance between force protection and mission accomplishment.

There are inherent problems in fielding an off-the-shelf vehicle that is not tied to operational concepts rooted in doctrine. For example, a high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) carries four troops. The MRAP carries six or more depending on its configuration. Accordingly, commanders and staff must develop tactical-level plans for using MRAPs instead of applying typical unit employment concepts based on HMMWV use.

If manning documents are tied to a four-man fire team plus a driver, those documents may need to be adjusted and Army forces may need to be rebalanced to increase end strength to support doctrine built around MRAP use. Sustainment planners would need to adjust estimates and plans to reflect a potential doubling of fuel use based on MRAP fuel consumption rates. MRAPs also generally exceed the cargo bay dimensions and payload ratings of a C–130 Hercules and must therefore be carried by a C–17 Globemaster aircraft or deployed by maritime transport.

Therefore, for future conflicts not in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, planners must ensure that doctrine addresses adjustments in force projection capability based on the additional transportation requirements imposed by a fleet that includes MRAPs or else depend more heavily on pre-positioned stocks.

Training

We must also continue to develop plans for individual and collective training for the MRAP that consider doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures being used in current overseas contingency operations. Rapidly equipping Soldiers in theater with MRAPs had drawbacks because the Soldiers had little time to train on the vehicles. While MRAPs have proven their worth by enhancing Soldier survivability against improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan, the debate continues about if, when, and how to incorporate them formally into the operational Army structure.

However, in the interim, Army leaders must develop plans for incorporating MRAPs into our BCT structure. Analyses from major Army commands, feedback from our training centers, and input from deployed Soldiers indicate that earlier opportunities to train on the MRAP will reduce the number of tactical vehicle accidents in theater as well as improve Soldier proficiency in operating the vehicle.

In 2008, Lieutenant General Stephen Speakes (who was the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G–8, at the time) said that we were faced with "putting MRAPs into the hands of Soldiers and not having the time to develop a robust training infrastructure or the ability to put substantial numbers of Soldiers through a training operation back home."

Now the Army is beginning to implement formal MRAP training along with specific tactics, techniques, and procedures designed to cut down on rollovers. Army commanders are getting their first surrogate trainers so Soldiers can train on MRAPs with the same characteristics as those they will use in combat.

The Army's MRAP University at Red River Army Depot, Texas, provides instruction for MRAP operators, sustainers, and master drivers in temporary duty and return status, allowing units to incorporate MRAPs into home-station training programs. We must continue to capture lessons learned and provide as many opportunities as possible for units to conduct training on MRAPs and how to employ them before the units' periods of availability in the Army Force Generation cycle.

Sustainment

The rapid acquisition of over 15,000 MRAPs has presented challenges to the maintenance and sustainment of the vehicles in theater. Despite the fact that MRAPs have been present in Southwest Asia for several years, the vehicles have not yet become part of the armed services' force structure.

To counter this challenge, the military has collaborated with its MRAP suppliers and other contractors to establish an effective maintenance and sustainment framework in theater. This has involved a hybrid approach similar to the strategies employed during the fielding of the Stryker combat vehicle, in which contractors worked in tandem with uniformed mechanics. Stryker maintenance eventually evolved to place greater emphasis on organic military capabilities.

To simplify early MRAP maintenance and sus-tainment challenges, the MRAP's original equipment manufacturers tried to design vehicles with readily available replacement parts. For example, the MRAP all-terrain vehicle is built on the Marine Corps' medium tactical vehicle replacement chassis.

The Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command maintains four regional sustainment centers at forward locations in Iraq and five in Afghanistan. A full-service facility also exists in Kuwait to reset vehicles taken out of the fight for more than 30 days.

In the near future, program managers will develop technical and operational manuals and generate parts catalogs for the MRAPs. The cataloging effort will focus on standardizing the parts nomenclature and numbers for various MRAP variants. A repair and sustainment facility for MRAPs will be established in the continental United States as part of the Army and Marine Corps Force Integration Strategy.

"On April 6, 2009, Secretary [of Defense Robert M.] Gates announced his adjustments to the defense program as part of the President's budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2010. The Secretary's decisions had an immediate and major impact on our FCS [Future Combat Systems]-centric Army modernization effort. He terminated the Manned Ground Vehicle (MGV) portion of FCS, directing that we 'reevaluate the requirements, technology, and approach—and then relaunch the Army's vehicle modernization program….' He further directed the Army to 'accelerate the initial increment of the program to spin out technology enhancements to all combat brigades,' and retain and deliver software and network development program in increments, and incorporate MRAP into our force structure."
—2010 Army Posture Statement,
"Two Critical Challenges"

The Army needs to review its force structure to incorporate additional assets to support MRAP maintenance operations. A notable force structure gap exists for recovery assets. Units must be equipped or fielded with the interim Stryker recovery system, which is an M983A2 or M983A4 light equipment transporter pulling a modified fifth-wheel towing recovery device (FWTRD) and a high-mobility recovery trailer (HMRT). The HMRT has a 30-ton payload carrying capacity and is pulled by the FWTRD, which has a 16-ton lift capacity.

Currently, this system is not a program of record; the Army is procuring it in accordance with a December 2006 Army Resource and Requirements Board (AR2B) decision. The AR2B-approved requirement is for a system with the capability to lift, tow, and transport Strykers damaged beyond the current recovery capability of the Stryker BCTs. The AR2B authorized further procurement of this system in February 2009 to support MRAP vehicle recovery within the U.S. Army Central area of operations.

A large portion of the MRAP family of vehicles, including the MRAP all-terrain vehicle, will supplement light tactical vehicle requirements either as a bridge to fill critical combat roles or as a permanent enduring capability. The Army is continuing to analyze and adjust its strategies as the development of the joint light tactical vehicle continues.

The Army has spent an average of close to $6 billion per year on its tactical wheeled vehicles (not including MRAPs) since fiscal year 2003, compared to less than $1 billion per year in the 6 preceding years. As a result, the Army now possesses greater tactical wheeled vehicle capability than at any time in recent history. However, capability gaps remain, and the adaptable nature of our enemies continues to stress and challenge these capabilities, necessitating further investment.

We are at a strategic crossroads. Our Army must provide its Soldiers with the appropriate platforms to meet the threats of today and tomorrow, but we cannot afford to sustain and modernize a fleet of the current size given future budget expectations. Therefore, we must examine and develop at the first opportunity the requisite doctrine, training, and sustainment strategies that support the incorporation of MRAPs into the heavy, Stryker, and infantry BCTs, all enabled with an enhanced network and packages of relevant capabilities to conduct full-spectrum operations in support of our Nation's security strategies.

Major Eric A. McCoy is the executive officer of the 125th Brigade Support Battalion, 3d Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. He has a bachelor's degree in mental health from Morgan State University, a master's degree in administration from Central Michigan University, and a master's degree in public policy management from Georgetown University. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, the Combined Arms Services and Staff School, and the Army Command and General Staff Officer Course.


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