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MRAPs in the Brigade Combat Team

Mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles have served the Army well for the past 4 years,
but the author believes that, because of their limitations, their acquisition should end.

In 2007, the Department of Defense initiated a major procurement initiative to replace all up-armored high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs) in Iraq with the mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) family of vehicles. The design of the MRAP's v-shaped hull protects Soldiers from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which account for over 70 percent of U.S. casualties in Iraq.

The Department of Defense (DOD) accelerated the MRAP program and allowed 12 separate vendors to produce different versions of the vehicle to ensure faster distribution to the field. It was the right decision given the circumstances of the surge for Operation Iraqi Freedom and the IED attack rates. However, now that Operation Iraqi Freedom has transitioned to Operation New Dawn and the military has withdrawn from combat operations and reduced the number of U.S. Soldiers in Iraq to 50,000, what should become of the 23,000 MRAPs that have been fielded?

Program Problems

The MRAP was designed as an interim solution to the need to increase the Soldier survivability rate over that of the HMMWV. The joint light tactical vehicle (JLTV) will replace the aging HMMWV family of vehicles, which is over 25 years old, but it is not expected to be fielded until fiscal year 2015. The design of the JLTV is similar to the MRAP's. It incorporates a v-shaped hull, but it is smaller with better mobility and will enable Soldiers to have better maneuverability in a constrained environment.

Incorporating the MRAP into brigade combat teams (BCTs) is detrimental to the future expeditionary concept because the overall cost of fielding MRAPs could cause the JLTV program to be suspended. The MRAP is also too large and unwieldy to operate in a constrained environment, and it does not allow the BCT to be expeditionary because of logistics requirements.

The fear of the MRAP program suspending or ending other major programs is a real concern. The MRAP program has been the third largest acquisition program for the past 3 years, behind missile defense and the joint strike fighter. The MRAP program has already killed the Future Combat System (FCS) manned ground vehicles acquisition program.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates made major adjustments to the FCS program last year, and those decisions had a significant impact on the FCS-centric modernization effort and led to the termination of the manned ground vehicle portion of the program. He noted that "DOD lacked a clear role in the modernization plan for the MRAP vehicles which are saving so many lives in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Secretary Gates' intent for these bold adjustments was "to better reflect the lessons that we were learning from ongoing operations and better posture Army forces for a broader range of future challenges." With that, the decision was to field MRAPs into all BCT formations as a capability package. But the answer for the BCT model is not developing capability packages; the answer is to maintain the MRAPs the Army has on hand and to increase production of the JLTV and move up its 2015 fielding date. The JLTV is the best vehicle for all the environments that BCTs may encounter in the future.

Spartan Field Kitchen
(Photo by SGT Jason Stewart)

Design Problems

The MRAP is a much safer vehicle than the HMMWV for driving up and down Main Supply Route (MSR) Tampa in Iraq. However, the minute it is off road on uneven terrain, it becomes cumbersome and susceptible to rollovers. According to the Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned, more than 230 MRAP rollovers occurred between November 2007 and January 2010, resulting in 13 fatalities. During the surge in Iraq, MSR Tampa, a six-lane road running north to south through Iraq, experienced more IED attacks than any other road. However, not all MRAP operations occurred on MSR Tampa. Much of the surge's success was due to the Soldiers getting out and partnering with the Iraqi security forces. This required them to take their MRAPs on narrow dirt roads.

The MRAP requires only a 25-degree angle to begin to roll over. If the shoulder of the road has a significant dropoff, then the MRAP will tilt back and forth. The MRAP is so top heavy that the smallest bump sends it bouncing and swaying from side to side. It is a delicate vehicle to operate and requires a fine touch in handling. As Soldiers are engaging the enemy, the thought to keep that fine touch is lost in the adrenaline of the moment, especially in Afghanistan where the terrain is rougher.

The MRAP is also extremely tall and wide and is therefore very difficult to take into an urban environment with low-hanging wires and narrow streets. To fix that problem, the Army distributed overhead wire mitigation kits (which include wooden boards and PVC pipes) that direct wires up and over the vehicle. The JLTV avoids all of these problems while maintaining enhanced survivability for the Soldiers.

Acquisition, Maintenance, and Fielding Problems

Operating, maintaining, and sustaining the MRAP has many problems, which are mostly caused by its rapid acquisition and multiple vendors. Secretary Gates noted that DOD did not ensure "that the supply line was full before we deployed them," and he also made reference to the MRAP's fire extinguisher system problems, suspension problems, and axle vulnerability. Another concern is that, at present, much MRAP maintenance is being performed by contractors as DOD adjusts its long-term maintenance strategy so that military personnel will eventually perform maintenance.

It was reported in 2008 that one in five MRAPs in Iraq was out of service (which correlates to an 80-percent readiness rate) primarily because of a lack of repair parts. The logistics requirements for the MRAP are extensive, and DOD still has not caught up with the supply system. MRAPs consistently require replacements of heavy-duty transmissions, engines, axles, and tires, which hinder a unit's readiness rates and take up a lot of time.

The design and purpose of the BCT is to be expeditionary with the ability to be plugged into any higher headquarters. Having MRAPs in the BCTs drastically hinders their ability to move expeditiously, and the logistics units within the BCTs were not designed to maintain such a large inventory. The problem has been exacerbated in Afghanistan because of the lack of a ground resupply system and the need to resupply by air transport. Before any vehicle is fielded, DOD must ensure that it does not replicate the problem of "playing catchup" with the supply system. The maintenance an MRAP requires is just too great for a BCT to handle.

The biggest impact of incorporating the MRAP into BCTs is that it is detrimental to the future expeditionary concept. Because the overall cost of fielding MRAPs in BCTs could suspend the JLTV project, they are too large and unwieldy to operate in a constrained environment, and they do not allow the BCT to be expeditionary because of their logistics requirements, MRAPs should not continue to be fielded. However, the MRAP is a good vehicle for defeating IEDs on an MSR, so it should be maintained and incorporated into the Army's pre-positioned stockpiles for future mission capability package needs.

Major Rodney H. Lipscomb II is the S–6 of the 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy. He has a B.A. degree in criminal justice from Marshall University and an M.B.A. degree from Webster University. He is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Signal Captains Career Course, Brigade and Battalion Signal Officers Course, and Basic and Advanced Airborne Schools.

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