April 29, 2012: France has obtained its first export sale for its Aravis MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected). Saudi Arabia has bought a hundred Aravis vehicles, with an option to quickly get another hundred. This 4x4, 12.5 ton vehicle is six meters (18.6 feet) long, 2.5 meters (7.8 feet) wide and high. The Aravis can carry up to eight people (six is more common) The Aravis is considered superior, in terms of protection, to most other MRAPs. The vehicle is based on the commercial Unimog U5000 heavy truck. Most MRAPs are basically heavily armored trucks that are modified to survive nearby explosions. Aravis was developed only four years ago.
Two years ago France sent fifteen Aravis MRAPs to Afghanistan where they were used by combat engineers to scout roads for roadside bombs and mines. As roadside bombs became more of a problem in Afghanistan five years ago, French troops found themselves without any MRAP vehicles. So, four years ago, the U.S. loaned France a hundred RG-31 (nicknamed Nyala) armored vehicles. The RG-31 is a very popular vehicle in Afghanistan with Britain, Canada, the Netherlands (who borrowed some from Canada), and the United States already using them there.
Most of the RG-31s in Afghanistan have special equipment installed, like jammers (to prevent roadside bombs from being detonated via a wireless device) and remotely (from inside the vehicle) operated 12.7mm machine-guns. The Aravis was armed and equipped in much the same way as the RG-31s the French had been using in Afghanistan.
The RG-31 is a South African vehicle, costing up to a million dollars each (depending on accessories), that was designed to resist landmines and roadside bombs. It was developed from the earlier Mamba armored personnel carrier and has an excellent track record. The wheeled (4x4) RG-31 weighs eight tons and can carry up to eleven people. Some models, like the RG-31M, usually operates with a crew of five, plus a cargo area in the back. The RG-31 MRAP is preferred in Afghanistan because the bad roads make it easier for the top heavy MRAPs to flip over. The smaller RG-31 is less prone to this problem.
The UN and the United States were the first major users of the vehicle. Although armed only with a .50 caliber machine-gun, the Nyala earns its way by being the first one down roads where mines or roadside bombs may be encountered. The Nyala is becoming popular with NGOs operating in dangerous areas, as it does not look particularly military (especially if the machine-gun is removed), even though it is definitely a combat ready vehicle in Afghanistan. The Aravis, with its superior explosion protection, is also offered for export.