Armor: Only The Best For Bahrain

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May 4, 2019: In early 2019 the island nation of Bahrain revealed that it had quietly acquired dozens of M-ATV (MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle) armored trucks. Publicity for this acquisition included video of many of them serving with the Bahraini contingent of the Arab Coalition forces in Yemen. Bahrain, like Saudi Arabia and UAE, bought their M-ATVs new from the American manufacturer. Meanwhile M-ATV continues to be a hot item on the second-hand market.

M-ATV has become very popular with Arab Gulf oil nations. In mid-2016 Iraqi troops received their first M-ATVs, for use by the commandos of the Iraqi CTS (Counter-Terrorism Service). The few thousand troops of the CTS are among the most effective available to Iraq and were receiving new weapons and vehicles because they were spearheading the offensive against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in Anbar (western Iraq) and Mosul. These operations began in early 2016 and by the end of 2017 had pushed ISIL out of most of the territory they had taken in mid-2014.

The M-ATV is one of the more popular of the growing number of refurbished late-model American MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) that saw some service in Afghanistan and are now being given away or sold cheap. M-ATV was found to be among the most effective MRAPs for counter-terrorism work and most of the American ones sent to Afghanistan after 2010 were among the few MRAPs the Americans took with them when they left. The older MRAPs were left behind when most U.S. troops left Afghanistan in 2014 while others were given to allies in need of such a vehicle. While the older MRAPS were appreciated, American allies soon realized the M-ATV was the best MRAP around and several Arabian nations purchased them new, often after having received a few refurbished ones from the Americans.

The M-ATV was developed from lessons learned using MRAPs in Iraq and first saw combat during 2010 in Afghanistan. The M-ATV was also designed for Afghanistan, where MRAPs are more effective if they have good cross-country mobility. M-ATV is a 14 ton, 4x4 (with independent wheel suspension) armored vehicle. The 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 $800,000 fully equipped. The ones showing up in Iraq were equipped with more electronics for detecting and jamming (when needed) roadside bombs. The CTS also received some older MRAP models fitted with additional armor and equipment for clearing bombs, mines and booby traps. But the Iraqis soon realized that the M-ATV was the superior MRAP design and that was no accident.

After entering service in 2009 several thousand M-ATVs were sent to Afghanistan and troops found that the M-ATV could 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 with weapons and lots of armor added. 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. 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.

The rush to get MRAPs to Afghanistan was 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 an MRAP, casualties would be about 65 percent less. Until lots of MRAPS arrived about two-thirds of all casualties in Afghanistan were from roadside bombs. Thus these vehicles reduced overall casualties by about a third. The Arab forces in Yemen don’t face as many roadside bombs but there are a lot of dirt roads that easily hide mines. In addition, the Shia rebels are always ready to use opportunities to stage an ambush.

The Iraqi CTS was not the first to receive refurbished M-ATVs. Earlier in 2016, the U.S. began delivering twenty M-ATVs to the 21,000 AU (African Union) peacekeepers in Somalia to provide peacekeepers with additional protection while patrolling areas where mines and roadside bombs are still a problem. These MRAPs will replace older (late 1980s vintage) and lighter Casspir vehicles. These are from South Africa which is where the modern MRAP design was invented, and for over a decade Casspir vehicles were among the best MRAP type vehicles you could get.

So far nearly 10,000 M-ATVs have been delivered and about 90 percent were purchased by the American military. While the U.S. purchased about 20,000 MRAPs for use in Iraq and Afghanistan, the M-ATVs were the only model that was retained after most American forces were withdrawn from Iraq (2011) and Afghanistan (2014). Because it is particularly useful for counter-terrorism or internal security work the M-ATV remains in demand and other MRAP manufacturers have adjusted their new designs to be more like M-ATV.

All the Arab Gulf oil states are motivated to equip themselves to deal with the threat from Iran, at least as far as Sunni Arabs throughout the region are concerned. Over the last few years, Iranian politicians have increasingly mentioned in public statements that Iran considers Bahrain the 14th province of Iran. That's because, well, it isn't called the "Persian" Gulf for nothing (although since all the oil money showed up the Arabs have been trying to popularize the term "Arabian Gulf," with mixed success). There have been ethnic Iranian communities on Bahrain for centuries, along with a Shia Arab majority, and Iran had a formal claim on the island until 1969 (when the claim was dropped, in order to improve relations with Arab neighbors). Iran has always been an empire and still is (only half the population is ethnic Iranian). The way this works you always have a sense of "Greater Iran" which includes, at the least, claims on any nearby areas containing ethnic Iranians or people of a similar religion. Hitler used this concept to guide his strategy during World War II. So the Arab Gulf oil states have become the largest market for defense exports since 2001. Often that new gear gets to see combat because the Iranian threat is not theoretical.

 


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