Armor: Buried Alive

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July 8, 2008: In the last four months, the U.S. Department of Defense has received 5,000 MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles. This doubles the number on hand. It was only a year ago that the U.S. Army decided buy a fleet of 17,700 MRAPs. Back then 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 were 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. In 2007, about two-thirds of all casualties in Iraq are from roadside bombs. Thus the army and marines wanted to use these vehicles in areas most likely to have bombs, and reduce overall casualties by about a third.

But at the same time the new MRAP production was cranking up, the surge offensive was rolling out in Iraq. By the end of 2007, roadside bomb attacks were down over 80 percent. Those that still took place did much less damage, with MRAPs often just rolling on, much to the consternation and dismay of the bombers. So it appeared that, just when MRAPs were less needed, a flood of them would show up. It took about eight months to deliver the first 5,000, and only four months more to deliver another 5,000.

This is expensive. The bomb resistant vehicles cost about five times more than armored hummers or trucks. Thus the 17,700 MRAPs would cost about $13 billion dollars. Sensing that the troops would end up with more MRAPs than they needed, orders were cut.

The 7-12 ton MRAPs are more expensive to maintain and operate than the hummer. Moreover, 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 MRAPs are popular with many NGOs, and nations that have problems with rebel movements. Iraq will no doubt have to deal with roadside bombs long after U.S. troops depart. So the U.S. may sell or donate many of them. 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.

MRAP vehicles are basically be large trucks, with lots of armor, configured to provide maximum protection from explosions. They burn more gas than hummers, and that just adds to the high cost of owning and operating them. Currently, there are about 6,300 MRAPs in Iraq, and nearly a thousand in Afghanistan.

 


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