Armor: MRAP Joins The Family


January 31, 2011: The U.S. Army has decided that the MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) 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. 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.

In addition to keeping thousands of the MRAPS, the army is developing a heavier replacement for the hummer, using a design with lots of MRAP features. This is the JLTV(Joint Light Tactical Vehicle), which is arriving a little ahead of schedule, as part of a program to massively upgrade army vehicles every few decades.

For example, the U.S. Army began replacing the World War II era vehicle designs with the HMMWV (humvee or "hummer") in 1985. This was the first new unarmored combat vehicle design since World War II (when the 1.1 ton jeep and 3.3 ton ¾ ton truck were introduced), and was expected to last for three decades or more. But that plan changed once Iraq was invaded. As expected, hummers wore out a lot more quickly (in five years) in combat, than during peacetime use (14 years). So the army and marines began developing, ahead of schedule, a new vehicle to supplement the hummer in combat zones. Several designs were selected for development, and soon one of them will be chosen as the final design and put into production. The army will buy at least 38,000 of the JLTV, while the marines will buy about 14,000.

In addition to being built to better survive mines and roadside bombs, the JLTV will be able to generate 30 KW of electricity (for operating all the new electronic gear, and recharging batteries), have an automatic fire extinguishing system and jam-resistant doors. Like the hummer, JLTV will be easy to reconfigure, for everything from a four seat, armed scout vehicle, to an ambulance, command vehicle or cargo or troop transport. The hummer will continue to be used outside of the combat zone, where most troops spend most of their time. But the JLTV will be built to better handle the beating vehicles take in the combat zone, including a design that enables troops to quickly slide in armor and Kevlar panels to make the vehicles bullet and blast proof.


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