April 15, 2011:
The U.S. Army and Marine Corps are buying 400 underbody armor kits for the 8x8 HEMTT tow trucks used to recover disabled MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) in Afghanistan. These kits will cost about $95,000 each, and will protect the HEMTT crews from enemy mines and roadside bombs. The 17 ton HEMTT tow truck is large and powerful enough to handle MRAPs, and some armored vehicles, like Strykers.
The army has nearly 14,000 of these eight wheeled vehicles, which form the backbone of its transport force. HEMTT come in five different configurations, the most common being the cargo carrier (ten tons carried in the truck, plus another ten tons in a trailer) and tanker (10,500 liters/2500 gallons). The average HEMTT weighs 19 tons, has a max speed of 90 kilometers an hour and a range (on one tank of fuel) of 480 kilometers (less if moving cross country.)
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army has decided that the MRAPs should be a permanent part of their vehicle fleet. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Four 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. Shortly thereafter, the terrorist resistance in Iraq collapsed, and so did the need for MRAPs. This resulted in about a quarter of the MRAP orders being cancelled, and others changed to designs more suitable for use in Afghanistan, which had far fewer roads to use them on.
While the troops appreciated the MRAPs, many generals did not want such a specialized vehicle as part of the permanent armor force. However, in Iraq and Afghanistan, people in these bomb resistant vehicles were much less likely to be killed or injured if they encountered a roadside bomb. But MRAPs are basically armored trucks (weighing 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 and Afghanistan. In Vietnam, only 14 percent of combat deaths were from roadside bombs, compared to 50-60 percent in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once American forces are out of Iraq, the military, until recently, believed it would not need as many MRAPs. But these vehicles remain popular with many NGOs, and nations that have problems with rebel movements. The U.S. considered selling some of the war surplus MRAPS, at used vehicle prices, to those buyers. The rest were to be put in storage, because it was so expensive to operate then. Otherwise, the issue of those high operating costs might create some highly embarrassing headlines in the mass media.
But now, thousands of those MRAPs will stay in service after the war in Afghanistan has ended. They will be considered armored combat vehicles, not transport, like the hummer and army trucks, and not used on a daily basis. This will keep down the operating expenses, as MRAPs consume a lot of fuel.