Armor: The Bad Rap on MRAP


March 2, 2009: As more units get MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles, there has been a growing demand from users to fix the annoying, and sometimes dangerous, quirks and flaws. Over 10,000 MRAPs are in use, mostly in Iraq. But most of the new ones are now going to Afghanistan. The number of troops complaining grows daily.

The list of problems is large, and include poor off-road performance, difficulty maneuvering along narrow village and city streets, high fuel consumption, too high (exposing turret gunners getting snagged by wires, often electrical ones, and more prone to tip over), and poor internal design (for example, the drivers seat is too cramped for a soldier wearing armor). On the plus side there are fewer casualties, and higher morale as a result. Troops go into harms way with more confidence, and are more effective as a result.

Fixing the shortcomings of these vehicles is difficult. Their height, weight, large size and high fuel consumption are essential in protecting passengers from bombs and mines. Problems with the internal layout can be fixed, and largely have been. Maneuverability problems are addressed somewhat by better driver training. Commanders of units equipped with MRAPs are being taught the best tactics and techniques (based on a growing body of user experience) to get the most out of these vehicles. Smaller MRAPs, that are better off the road, less liable to tip over and easier to take through narrow village roads, are being sent to Afghanistan. The wire problem was fixed by putting plastic pipe, at an angle, in front, to deal with the wire. Another solution is to use a gun turret that is controlled from inside the vehicle.

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 were much less likely to be killed or injured if they encountered a roadside bomb. Thus, the thinking went,  if all the troops who encountered these bombs were in a MRAP, casualties would be about 65 percent less. In 2006-7, about two-thirds of all casualties in Iraq were from roadside bombs. Thus the army and marines used these vehicles in areas most likely to have bombs, and reduced overall casualties by about a third.

MRAPs cost about five times more than armored hummers or trucks. These vehicles 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 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.

One of the most common of these MRAPs are called Cougars. 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.

MRAPs are more expensive to maintain and operate than the hummer. And 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 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.


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