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MRAP’s Future With the Army

The mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle has proven its worth in Iraq and Afghanistan, prompting leaders to include it in brigade combat team modernization plans.

Since fiscal year 2006, the Department of Defense (DOD) has spent significant funds on the mine- resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle program. Despite this investment, DOD originally was not considering this vehicle as part of its plan for brigade combat team (BCT) modernization. Budget constraints and the MRAP’s proven success in Iraq and Afghanistan have prompted DOD to take a harder look at how this vehicle fits into the services’ future.

The Future Combat System

The Future Combat System (FCS) program, launched in 2003, was a vision for modernizing BCTs with an array of vehicles and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms. FCS was described as being a “system of systems” capable of full-spectrum operations.

The MRAP vehicle was not part of the original FCS program. According to a Congressional Research Service report by Andrew Feickert, “Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected (MRAP) Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress,” in 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates directed the Army to include the MRAP in its FCS plans.

The pricetag of FCS, over $160 billion, was hard for the Army to reconcile under budget constraints, so several alternative plans were proposed to replace it.

These alternatives were revealed to Congress in a June 2009 Congressional Budget Office study, “An Analysis of the Army’s Transformation Programs and Possible Alternatives.” Most of the alternative plans sought to decrease the cost of the program by incorporating upgraded combat vehicles and platforms in the current fleet in lieu of funding the high-priced FCS vehicles.

FCS Transitions to Army BCT Modernization

According to a DOD press release dated 23 June 2009, during the budgetary process for fiscal year 2010, Secretary Gates expressed concerns “that the portion of the FCS program to field new manned combat vehicles did not adequately reflect the lessons of counterinsurgency and close quarters combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

An acquisition decision memorandum canceled the FCS BCT program and replaced it with “a modernization plan consisting of a number of separate but integrated acquisition programs” called the Brigade Combat Team Modernization Plan.

Incorporating the MRAP

Including the MRAP in the FCS BCT program and now the Brigade Combat Team Modernization Plan was a sound move on the part of DOD both from the budgetary perspective and from a practical perspective within the domains of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities.

According to Feickert’s report, more than 15,000 MRAPs are being used in Iraq and Afghanistan. The MRAP’s success in operations and its survivability from attacks from mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are due mainly to its unique v-shaped hull design and armor plating. This design is neither radical nor new since the South African Defense Force has been using it for years, but incorporating this vehicle into U.S. operations is new and continues to be a developmental process.

Staff members at the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, are supporting doctrine development related to the MRAP. The center’s staff is responsible for capturing lessons learned in the field and producing written products that assist deployed Soldiers and those training for deployment in incorporating tactics, techniques, and procedures. This doctrine also helps units to adjust their organization in preparation for deployment and incorporate the MRAP into their formations.

More Vehicles Equals More Training

As units return from deployment and begin the process of resetting for the next possible mission, the use of MRAP vehicles in unit-level training and qualifications will become standard.

According to Feickert, “The Army plans on allocating 702 MRAPs for training in addition to the 50 MRAPs already designated for training drivers.” This increase in available vehicles for training will ensure that new Soldiers arriving at units that are preparing to deploy will train in the basic skill sets needed to maintain and operate MRAP vehicles.

The increase in vehicles available for training will also allow MRAP training to be incorporated into leader training programs, such as officer basic and career courses and branch-specific noncommissioned officer courses.

The next generation of warriors and leaders will train on MRAPs returning from the operational fleet. The only difference at the training centers is the addition of a new simulator developed to address the shortfall in the number of vehicles available for training. Now MRAP simulators that were used in lieu of vehicle training will instead be used to prepare students before they get behind the wheel. We have the personnel; we just have to get them trained.

Future Plans for the MRAP

In an August 2009 Congressional Research Service report on the MRAP, Feickert laid out the U.S. Army’s plan for the MRAP:

As U.S. forces begin drawing down in Iraq, the Army and Marines plan to put the majority of MRAPs into prepositioned stocks at various overseas locations, ship a number back to the United States for training, and place a number into logistics and route clearance units. Out of the Army’s eventual 12,000 Iraq-based MRAPs, the Army plans to use only 2,675 in operational units.

It would seem that the Army has an abundance of the materiel and facilities needed to incorporate the MRAP into future plans. The problem arising now is that Secretary Gates is directing an increase in the number of MRAPs slated to replace planned FCS vehicles in operational units and a decrease in the number of MRAPs going into pre-positioned stocks.

The Army and the Marine Corps are working to balance this guidance with their current plans. According to Feickert, Secretary Gates is “concerned that the FCS program did not include a role for MRAPs and implied that there needed to be a greater role for MRAPs in the Army’s vehicle modernization plan.”

To address these issues, the Army has replaced the FCS program with the Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization Plan and included MRAP. Just as existing systems, such as the Stryker, could be used to replace the aging M113 fleet in the BCTs, MRAPs could be used to replace highly vulnerable vehicles. As part of the new plan, the MRAP will replace vehicles, like the military police up-armored high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle and multipurpose transport vehicles used for logistics convoys.

DOD has spent $26.815 billion on the MRAP program since fiscal year 2006. This significant investment in a vehicle family should be incorporated into the Army’s Brigade Combat Team Modernization Plan. Although the MRAP was not part of the original FCS program, its design bridges a capabilities gap in Iraq and Afghanistan. Placing MRAPs in storage would be like parking all the tanks after Operation Desert Storm and then pulling them out 12 years later for Operation Iraqi Freedom—it would decrease the vehicles’ effectiveness. Secretary Gates is moving the Army in the right direction by insisting on incorporating MRAPs into future Army plans to upgrade BCTs.

Major Dale B. “Woody” Woodhouse is an armor officer and a former Marine and is currently attending the Army Command and General Staff College. He holds B.A. degrees in government and economics and is a graduate of the Armor Officer Basic Course, Scout Platoon Leader Course, Field Artillery Captains Career Course, and Information Operations Qualification Course. He also has been selected to attend the School of Advanced Military Studies.

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