Armor: MRAPs Versus Iran

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August 1, 2012: The UAE, United Arab Emirates, has ordered 750 American M-ATVs (MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle). The U.S. Department of Defense has ordered over 7,000 M-ATVs and over 80 percent of those have already been delivered (usually to Afghanistan). Most of these cost about $600,000 each. Twice as many older design MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) were ordered (and largely delivered) for service in Iraq. Many of these older models ended up in Afghanistan.

The M-ATV is a 15 ton, 4x4 (with independent wheel suspension) armored vehicle. Payload is 1.8 tons and it can carry five passengers (including a gunner). Top speed is 105 kilometers an hour and road range on internal fuel is 515 kilometers. The M-ATV is slightly larger than a hummer. An M-ATV costs about a million dollars, including equipment, weapons, and transport (it costs about $150,000 to fly one to Afghanistan).

Two years ago, when M-ATVs became to arrive in quantity, U.S. troops in Afghanistan already had over 7,000 MRAPs but most were older designs and mostly confined to the roads. The M-ATV was an MRAP design that was heavily modified based on experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, so that it could operate off road. M-ATVs proved to have better "all terrain" capabilities than expected, if you know how to drive them off the road. Unlike earlier MRAP vehicle designs, the M-ATV was designed to operate off roads, particularly in Afghanistan. Troops have found that the M-ATV can safely handle a lot of cross country travel that would be dangerous for a conventional MRAP. But, like taking a tracked vehicle (like a tank) off road, you can't just drive it anywhere. Even a tracked vehicle will flip or lose a track (hit an obstacle that will tear the tracks from the wheels) if you don't drive carefully. Same deal with the M-ATV. Off the road this is a more stable and forgiving MRAP and commanders are coming up with new tactics to take advantage of it. The enemy can no longer assume all MRAPs will stay on the road.

The M-ATV design improved on the fact that all other MRAPs were, after all, just heavy trucks. The basic MRAP capsule design produces a high center of gravity that made the vehicles prone to flipping over easily. They are also large vehicles, causing maneuverability problems when going through narrow streets. Most MRAPs don't have a lot of torque, being somewhat underpowered for their size. And, being wheeled vehicles, they are not very good at cross country movement (especially considering the high center of gravity). The M-ATV was designed to deal with all of these problems, with different degrees of success.

The rush to get MRAPs to Afghanistan was all about reducing casualties. Anyone in these vehicles is much less likely to be killed by a roadside bomb. The math is simple. If all the troops who encountered these bombs were in a MRAP, casualties would be about 65 percent less. Two years ago about two-thirds of all casualties in Afghanistan were from roadside bombs. Thus these vehicles reduced overall casualties by about a third. This can be seen in the steady decline in casualties from roadside bombs in the last year. Because of all the MRAPs in Afghanistan less than half of American casualties come from roadside bombs.

The UAE is having growing problems with their Shia minority. Iran, the largest Shia nation on the planet, encourages Shia minorities to fight against their Sunni rulers. That would involve using roadside bombs, something MRAPs are very good at nullifying.

 


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