The U.S. Army has ordered 250 M-ATV (MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle) ambulances, for use in Afghanistan. It will take about 15 months to complete this order, with each vehicle costing about $1.1 million. This is the first time the M-ATV has been built as an ambulance. Another 46 M-ATVs were ordered that are customized for SOCOM (Special Operations Command). These will cost $609,000 each. The Department of Defense plans to obtain 10,000 M-ATVs, and about 80 percent of those have already been ordered. Most of these cost about $587,000 each. Twice as many older design MRAPs were ordered (and largely delivered) for service in Iraq. Many of these older models are now serving in Afghanistan.
The M-ATV is a 15 ton, 4x4 (with independent wheel suspension) armored vehicle. Payload is 1.8 tons, and it can carry five passengers (including a gunner). Top speed is 105 kilometers an hour, and road range on internal fuel is 515 kilometers. The M-ATV is slightly larger than a hummer. An M-ATV costs about a million dollars, including equipment, weapons and transport (it costs about $150,000 each to fly one in).
U.S. troops in Afghanistan already have over 7,000 MRAPs, but most are of the older designs, and mostly confined to the roads. The M-ATV design was heavily modified based on experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, so that it could operate off road. Over three thousand M-ATVs are in Afghanistan, and troops are getting a sense of what these new armored trucks are capable of. Turns out that their "all terrain" capabilities are greater than expected, if you know how to drive them off the road. Unlike earlier MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle designs, the M-ATV was designed to operate off roads, particularly in Afghanistan. Troops have found that the M-ATV can safely handle a lot of cross country travel that would be dangerous for a conventional MRAP. But, like taking a tracked vehicle (like a tank) off road, you can't just drive it anywhere. Even a tracked vehicle will flip, or lose a track (hit an obstacle that will tear the tracks from the wheels) if you don't drive carefully. Same deal with the M-ATV. Off the road, this is a more stable and forgiving MRAP, and commanders are coming up with new tactics to take advantage of it. The enemy can no longer assume all MRAPs will stay on the road.
The M-ATV design improved on the fact that all other MRAPs were, after all, just heavy trucks. The basic MRAP capsule design produces a high center of gravity, that makes the vehicles prone to flipping over easily. They are also large vehicles, causing maneuverability problems when going through narrow streets. Most MRAPs don't have a lot of torque, being somewhat underpowered for their size. And, being wheeled vehicles, they are not very good at cross country movement (especially considering the high center of gravity.) The M-ATV was designed to deal with all of these problems, with different degrees of success.
The rush to get MRAPs to Afghanistan is all about reducing casualties. Anyone in these vehicles is much less likely to be killed by a roadside bomb. The math is simple. If all the troops who encountered these bombs were in a MRAP, casualties would be about 65 percent less. About two-thirds of all casualties in Afghanistan are from roadside bombs. Thus these vehicles reduced overall casualties by about a third. This can be seen in the steady decline in casualties from roadside bombs in the last year.