Armor: MRAP Kills JLTV


September 30, 2007: The U.S. Army and Marine Corps are in the process of spending $20 billion to buy over 20,000 MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles. While the troops appreciate this, some the generals see serious problems in the future, all because of the rush to buy lots of MRAPs. But for the moment, people in bomb resistant vehicles are much less likely to be killed or injured if they encounter a roadside bomb. Thus if all the troops who encountered these bombs were instead in a bomb resistant vehicle, casualties would be about 65 percent less. About half the casualties in Iraq are from roadside bombs. Thus the army and marines want to use these vehicles in areas most likely to have bombs, and reduce overall casualties by about a third.

The most common MRAPs in service are the Cougars. This vehicle, and the larger Buffalo, are more expensive to operate, and less flexible than the hummer, even an armored hummer. But MRAPs save lives. The Cougar and Buffalo vehicles use a capsule design to protect the passengers and key vehicle components mines and roadside bombs. The bulletproof Cougars and Buffalos are built using the same construction techniques pioneered by South African firms that have, over the years, delivered thousands of landmine resistant vehicles to the South African armed forces. These were a great success in the 1980s. 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. Basically, MRAPs are heavy trucks (12 tons or more) that are hardened to survive bombs and mines, and cost about five to tem times more than an armored hummer. Several hundred of the current fleet MRAPs are Buffalos. This is a 23 ton vehicle, which is actually a heavily modified Peterbuilt Mac-10 truck. Costing $740,000 each, about the same as the smaller Cougar, they have added armor protection to keep out machine-gun bullets.

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 all these 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 20,000 MRAPs on hand, keeping them in storage may not be an option. As a result, 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 reduced their combat casualties, making losses from roadside bombs into a major source of 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.


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