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I Will Survive
by James Dunnigan
November 7, 2009

Although the U.S. has 6,200 MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles and 19,000 HMMWV (hummer) vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is developing a hummer replacement, there is still demand for new hummers. This year, the U.S. Army ordered 10,995 hummers (and the marines 301) for $165,000 each. Last year, 18,218 were ordered, for $173,000 each. There are over twenty different versions of the hummer on order or in use. The drop in average price reflects the smaller proportion of the more expensive armored versions.  

Even though the army and marines are refurbishing thousands of hummers, wear and tear (mostly), and combat damage have completely destroyed enough vehicles to require new ones. In addition, transfers of thousands of used HMMWVs to Iraqi and Afghan security forces also have to be replaced.

 Two years ago, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps were in the midst of spending $20 billion to buy over 20,000 MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles. The defeat of the terrorists in Iraq last year, led to sharp cuts in those orders, and only about 15,000 will be bought. Far fewer MRAPs are required in Afghanistan, which has hardly any roads to use them on.

While the troops appreciated the MRAPs, some the generals see serious problems in the future. For the moment, people in bomb resistant vehicles are much less likely to be killed or injured if they encounter a roadside bomb. But MRAPs are basically armored trucks. They use the same construction techniques developed in South Africa decades ago. The South African technology was imported into the U.S. in 1998, and was used in the design of vehicles used by peacekeepers in the Balkans. Basically, MRAPs are heavy trucks (8-23 tons) that are hardened to survive bombs and mines, and cost about five to ten times more than an armored hummer.

 MRAPs are more expensive to maintain and operate than the hummer. That is seen as a major problem in the future. Another problem is that the large number of roadside bombs are a situation unique to Iraq. Once American forces are out of Iraq, the military would not need as many MRAPs. But these vehicles are popular with many NGOs, and nations that have problems with rebel movements. So the U.S. could sell some of them, at used vehicle prices, to those buyers. Otherwise, they could be put in storage, because the higher operating costs, compared to hummers, would make for a highly embarrassing issue in the mass media.

 But with as many as 15,000 MRAPs on hand, keeping them in storage, or selling them off, may not be an option. As a result, two years ago, the U.S. Department of Defense has halted work on designing the hummer replacement (the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle or JLTV). Part of this is the fear that roadside bombs may become a persistent threat in the future. Of course, roadside bombs and anti-vehicle mines have been around for over a century. What has really changed here is the ability of American ground forces to greatly reduce their combat casualties, thus making roadside bomb casualties into a major source of overall losses. The mass media is largely innumerate and exploitatitive, so they ignore all other issues that impact troop safety (larger accident rate and less mobility, plus bomb detection and electronic warfare) because of armored trucks, and focus on only one aspect (protection from explosions). This eventually has an effect on government policy making, as in the halting of work on JLTV.

Now work on the JLTV has resumed, with a hummer like vehicle, containing some design elements from MRAPs (a V shaped bottom to deflect the force of a mine or bomb) and the ability to quickly add armor kits. But the design effort is going forward slowly, partly because of uncertainty, and partly because the hummers continue to get the job done. This the plan to introduce the JLTV in five years is seen as optimistic, and not really necessary, unless someone comes up with a really brilliant design.

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