In 2007, the Department of Defense (DOD) began the rapid acquisition of thousands of mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles in response to the numerous casualties caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the roads of Iraq. By the end of 2008, DOD had acquired and fielded approximately 12,000 MRAPs.
In late 2009, DOD began acquiring and fielding an additional 5,244 lighter and more mobile MRAP all-terrain vehicles (M–ATVs) to counter the growing IED threat in Afghanistan. However, since the drawdown of forces in Iraq, thousands of first-generation MRAPs now sit in southwest Asia and are not part of the Army's documented force structure.
The Army needs the MRAPs to maintain a high level of IED protection until DOD fields the joint light tactical vehicle (JLTV) in 2015. As of this year, DOD has invested $35 billion in acquiring MRAPs to bridge the counter-IED protection gap. The Army should take full advantage of that investment and incorporate MRAPs and M–ATVs into its force structure for current and future operations.
Types of MRAPs
Army MRAPs fall into three categories. Category I vehicles hold up to six occupants and are intended to provide units with the ability to maneuver in urban and restricted terrain while conducting patrol, reconnaissance, security, and convoy operations.
Category II vehicles hold up to 10 occupants and are designed to provide a protected maneuver and transportation capability for infantry squads, combat engineers, explosive ordnance disposal Soldiers, and casualty evacuation.
Category III vehicles hold up to six occupants and are primarily for route clearance and IED and mine disposal operations.
The M–ATV holds up to five occupants and is for combat operations in complex and highly restricted terrain. The M–ATV provides greater maneuverability than other MRAPs but offers the same level of survivability and protection.
Limitations of Initial MRAPs
One of the most significant limitations of the first- generation MRAPs is their mobility and deployability. Most of the MRAPs that were sent to Iraq are too large and too heavy for the more challenging physical environment in Afghanistan. Their size, weight, and high center of gravity severely limit their urban and cross-country maneuverability.
The weight of most MRAPs, which varies from 19 to 37 tons, makes them too heavy to go over 72 percent of the world's bridges. Their weight also makes them unsuitable for transportation by C–130 Hercules aircraft, CH–47 and CH–53 Chinook helicopters, and most amphibious ships. These size and weight limitations were the main reason that DOD began acquiring the lighter and more mobile M–ATV.
MRAP Costs and Maintenance
The cost and sustainment issues involved with MRAPs place other serious restraints on their long-term viability as an Army light tactical vehicle (LTV). The cost of MRAPs varies from $600,000 to $1 million each, which makes them a cost-prohibitive alternative for replacing 110,000 Army high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs). Each JLTV, by comparison, costs approximately $300,000. However, MRAPs and M–ATVs were intended not to replace HMMWVs but to serve as an interim until the JLTV is fielded.
A lack of commonality between MRAPs and existing DOD vehicles greatly complicates the delivery of maintenance services, acquisition and distribution of parts, and training of Army vehicle mechanics. The Army's 19,000 MRAPs consist of 19 different variants produced by 5 different manufacturers, each using unique designs that require "specific operating procedures and maintenance," according to a report by the Government Accountability Office in 2008 titled, "Rapid Acquisition of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles."
To help address this maintenance complexity, the TACOM Life Cycle Management Command established four regional MRAP facilities in Iraq, four in Afghanistan, and one in Kuwait. The Joint MRAP Vehicle Program established a Joint Support Solutions Center in Afghanistan to facilitate the distribution of parts and critical enablers to units in theater. MRAP and M–ATV manufacturers also had to send large numbers of contracted maintenance personnel to sustain the rapid fielding of vehicles there. U.S. Forces–Afghanistan has had to provide facilities and life support for these additional contract personnel, adding to its already difficult logistics burden.
Other issues complicate MRAP fielding and sustainment. More than 500 combinations of Government-furnished equipment (GFE) exist for MRAPs, and the installation of GFE often creates a fielding bottleneck in theater. MRAPs are also only half as fuel efficient as HMMWVs, which could significantly increase fuel requirements. These sustainment problems complicate and increase the demands on the logistics force structure and the size of the logistics footprint in any given theater of operations.
Despite their drawbacks, MRAPs performed well in Iraq and saved many lives. They provided the Army and Marine Corps with an important counter-IED capability. DOD officials have stated that the casualty rate for personnel using MRAPs is 6 percent, compared to 22 percent for personnel in up-armored HMMWVs. In the Joint Force Quarterly article, "MRAPs, Irregular Warfare, and Pentagon Reform," by Christopher Lamb, Matthew Schmidt, and Berit Fitzsimmons (published in the 4th quarter 2009 issue), the authors reported that Marine Corps General Robert Magnus testified before Congress that MRAPs are "up to 400 percent more effective than the up-armored Humvees [HMMWVs] in reducing injuries and deaths."
According to the March 2008 Seapower article, "Re-evaluating MRAP," by Matt Hillburn, then Brigadier General Lawrence Nicholson, deputy commander at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, stated, "I've seen MRAPs . . . taking hits that no Humvee or no Amtrak would've survived."
The MRAP vehicle capability decreases costs, reduces casualties, and buys time for a commander's counterinsurgency strategy to work. Lamb, Schmidt, and Fitzsimmons noted that winning the long war requires "sustained support from the U.S. public, which is more likely to offer that support when costs, including American casualties, remain low in comparison with perceived national interests and discernible progress."
Protecting the lives of Soldiers and Marines is not only the right thing to do; it is also less expensive than the alternative. Although each MRAP costs $600,000 to $1 million depending on the model, the cost of replacing a Soldier varies from $500,000 to $2 million depending on grade and military occupation.
The Need for Protection
DOD expects the near future to be one of persistent conflict and irregular warfare. Therefore, we cannot expect the requirement for IED protection to go away anytime soon. However, the force protection requirements will vary from one conflict to another, and the balance of survivability and mobility are difficult to determine in advance. The Army has 110,000 HMMWVs in its inventory, and the vehicle remains the Army's primary LTV. The HMMWV's replacement, the JLTV, will not begin production until 2015 and will not completely replace the HMMWV until 2025.
MRAPs can be included in the force structure with a variety of other vehicles, such as up-armored HMMWVs, family of medium tactical vehicle trucks, and JLTVs. However, DOD should cease acquisition of expensive MRAPs and M–ATVs as soon as practical and focus on the long-term LTV solution: the lighter, more versatile JLTV.
The 19,000 MRAPs already acquired by the Army are sufficient to fill the demand for heavy IED protection now and in the future. They are effective for route-clearance operations, mine and explosive ordnance disposal, casualty evacuation, and convoy protection. Units conducting those missions should have MRAPs incorporated into their modified tables of organization and equipment (MTOEs).
A 2010 Congressional Research Service report states that the Army intends to create an effective mix of wheeled vehicle systems by adding thousands of MRAPs into unit MTOEs: 5,570 MRAPs in infantry brigade combat teams (BCTs), 1,700 in heavy BCTs, 165 into Stryker BCTs, 5,350 in support units, 1,000 in training sets, and 1,000 in war reserves.
The remaining MRAPs can go into Army pre-positioned stocks. The Army intends to place MRAPs in as many as 20 BCT sets in Kuwait; Charleston, South Carolina; and Sierra Army Depot, California. These MRAPs will remain available for future operations in which protection is more important than maneuverability.
Additional MRAPs can be transferred to allied and partner-nation forces critical to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates promised on 5 February 2011 to "sell, loan, or donate surplus U.S. bomb-detecting equipment, including MRAPs," to our allies.
Incorporating the MRAP capability into the Army force structure provides a capability that the Army needs now and until the JLTV fielding is complete. This will ensure that it is not 2 years too late protecting Soldiers from IEDs in the next conflict, as it was in Iraq.