Murphy's Law: The Wonder Weapon That Wasn't


May 7, 2009: Although most of the U.S. MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles are in Iraq, most of the roadside bombs are now going off in Afghanistan. This happened for the first time in March, when there were 343 roadside bombs in Iraq, and 361 in Afghanistan. The Taliban believe the roadside bomb is the key to victory, and wonder weapon that will succeed where others have failed.

In 2007, about a thousand of these bombs were built and placed in Afghanistan. That doubled to 2,000 in 2008. Last year, there have been some 2,500 Taliban attacks, about 80 percent of them roadside bombs. So far this year, over 70 percent of the casualties in Afghanistan have been caused by suicide and roadside bombs.

There are 1,800 MRAPs in Afghanistan now (versus over 10,000 in Iraq), and about twice as many are needed, because these vehicles basically negate the effectiveness of roadside bombs. U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan want to have about 5,000 MRAPs. This would cut current U.S. and NATO casualty rates by 20-30 percent. NATO casualties in Afghanistan are already lower than those in Iraq, which are, in turn, only a third of the casualty rates in Vietnam and World War II.

In Afghanistan, about two-thirds of those roadside bombs were spotted and disabled before they could go off. The U.S. and British troops had transferred their Iraq counter-IED (Improvised Explosive Device, or roadside bomb) techniques and technology to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Taliban found that they were not as good at this IED stuff as the Sunni Arab terrorists in Iraq were. In 2005, when there were far fewer IED/suicide bomber attacks, 130 foreign troops were killed in Afghanistan. The foreign troops are the principal Taliban target, as it's a big deal for the Taliban to "cast out the infidels (non-Moslems)." Failure has been constant. Increasing the IED/suicide attacks this year by about eight times the 2005 level has yielded 277 dead foreign troops.

Even before 2007, there were already over two thousand MRAP vehicles in use in Iraq, 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. The MRAPs are more expensive to operate, and less flexible than the hummer. MRAPs use a capsule design to protect the passengers and key vehicle components from mines and roadside bombs. The bulletproof MRAPs are built using construction techniques pioneered by South African firms, and have been 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, but the much lower casualty rate makes it very worthwhile. .


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