Logistics: The Bottleneck


March 22, 2010: The U.S. effort to increase shipments of MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles to Afghanistan has been reduced. Back in January, 400 were flown in, doubling the number available in Afghanistan. That was increased to 500 a month last month, but the goal of 1,000 a month is being put on hold. That's because the bottleneck was distributing the MRAPs to units and training drivers how to handle them. Both of these activities take time, and after doing the math, it was concluded that it might never be possible to get a thousand a month into service. Maybe later this year, maybe not.

Most of MRAPs coming in are the M-ATV model, designed for use in Afghanistan. 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. 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 can potentially reduce overall casualties by about a third.

Meanwhile, there was no problem with delivering a thousand a month. In addition to the distribution hassles, there was a problem with the cost (up to $150,000 per vehicle flown in.) A B-747 freighter can carry five M-ATVs per trip, but C-17s (which can carry four) and An-124s (which can carry six) are also being used. An alternative to flying the vehicles half way around the world, was to send them most of the way by ship. The vehicles are moved by ship to a Persian Gulf port, which shortens the flight time (from 14 hours to three hours) and enables fully loaded air transports to make two or three round trips a day. Using ships and aircraft to deliver them costs less than half as much as flying them all the way.

Nearly 7,000 M-ATVs are on order, most for use in Afghanistan, where there are already over 4,000 vehicles of this type. These are vehicles heavily modified based on experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. The M-ATV (MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle) 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 range on internal fuel is 515 kilometers. The M-ATV is slightly larger than a hummer. Each M-ATV costs $446,000.

The M-ATV was a new design, that improved on the fact that all other MRAPs were, after all, just heavy trucks. The 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.

The first few thousand MRAP vehicles in service created a big demand from users to fix a lot of annoying, and sometimes dangerous, quirks and flaws. When first used in Iraq six years ago, problems were encountered. These included 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 driver's seat is too cramped for a soldier wearing armor). Despite the problems, over 10,000 MRAPs were sent to Iraq.


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