Armor: Getting Used To MRAPs


March 13,2008: The U.S. Department of Defense, after deciding to buy a fleet of over 20,000 MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles last year, has delivered 3,500 new ones to Iraq (mostly) and Afghanistan. About 65 percent of those are actually in use. Since then, the success of the surge campaign in Iraq, and problems using the bulky MRAP vehicles in some situations, has led to the cancellation of about a third of those orders.

But now, as more units get MRAPs, and put them to use, ways are being found to overcome the shortcomings of these vehicles (poor off-road performance, and difficulty maneuvering along narrow village and city streets). Another minor glitch is high fuel consumption, requiring more fuel convoys to be sent north from Kuwait. But now there are fewer casualties, and higher morale as well.

Even before 2007, there were already over two thousand of these vehicles in use, mainly by bomb disposal troops, and units operating in areas almost certain to have lots of roadside bombs. People in these vehicles are much less likely to be killed or injured if they encounter a roadside bomb. Thus if all the troops who encountered these bombs were in a MRAP, casualties would be about 65 percent less. Currently, about two-thirds of all casualties in Iraq are from roadside bombs. Thus the army and marines want to use these vehicles in areas most likely to have bombs, and reduce overall casualties by about a third.

MRAPs cost about five times more than armored hummers or trucks. The original MRAP order would have cost about $16 billion. But these vehicles would prevent about a hundred troops a month from getting killed or wounded, under pre-2007 conditions. But now most of the bomb makers and planters are out of action, and there are far fewer bombs going off.

The most common of these MRAPs are called Cougars. This vehicle, and a larger one called the Buffalo, are more expensive to operate, and less flexible than the hummer. MRAPs use a capsule design to protect the passengers and key vehicle components mines and roadside bombs. The bulletproof MRAPs are built using the same construction techniques pioneered by South African firms that have, over the years, delivered thousands of landmine resistant vehicles to the South African armed forces. These were a great success. The South African technology was imported into the U.S. in 1998, and has already been used in the design of vehicles used by peacekeepers in the Balkans.

Basically, the Cougar is a 12 ton truck that is hardened to survive bombs and mines, and comes in two basic versions. The four wheel one can carry ten passengers, the six wheel one can carry 16. The trucks cost about $730,000 each, fully equipped. MRAPs are also being supplied by other manufacturers, but their designs are very similar to the Cougar.

A smaller number of MRAPs are similar to the larger Buffalos. This is a 23 ton vehicle, which is actually a heavily modified Peterbuilt Mac-10 truck. Costing $740,000 each, they have added armor protection to keep out machine-gun bullets.

The Cougar is more expensive to maintain and operate than the hummer. The large number of roadside bombs are a situation unique to Iraq. Once American forces are out of Iraq, the military would not need all these MRAPs. But vehicles like the Cougar and Buffalo are popular with many NGOs, and nations that have problems with rebel movements. So the U.S. could sell most of them, at used vehicle prices, to those buyers. Otherwise, they could have to be put in storage, because the higher operating costs, compared to hummers, would make for a highly embarrassing issue in the mass media.

It was to have taken about two years to manufacture the original order for about 20,000 MRAP vehicles, and it will still take that long, even with the orders reduced.


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