Well it looks like the first spasm of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle orders has been launched, with the Pentagon inking a get this — $481 million contract for 1,000 vehicles this week.
Thats a half a billion dollars for 300 of the 15-ton Cougar Cat-1 (MRAP-MRUV) vehicles and 700 of the 16-ton Cat-2 (MRAP-JEERV) behemoths — all going to Force Protection Industries, Inc.
Excuse me for being the skunk at the picnic, but Im skeptical of the value of these purchases.
The MRAP is not a tactical vehicle. It is a specialized armored truck designed primarily for protecting EOD units and their gear from explosions while diffusing bombs or mines. The Marine Corps top gear buyer, Brig. Gen. Mike Brogan, admitted last month the MRAP was viewed by the Corps as a boutique vehicle for certain specialties. They asked for a limited quantity of these vehicles in the 2008 budget and 2007 wartime funding request based on that view.
Then what happened? You guessed it, Congress stepped in. After browbeating every service and DoD official they could over the meager number of MRAPs in the budget, Army and Marine officials snapped to and revamped their request to satisfy lawmakers new infatuation.
Remember again: the MRAPs are not tactical vehicles. Of course, neither is a Humvee (it was designed as a logistics vehicle), but its a lot easier to use as a tactical vehicle with current modifications than the MRAP in an urban counterinsurgency. The giant, heavy MRAP vehicle is ill-suited to the urban fight. You might as well drive around the city in a Bradley fighting vehicle.
I know Ill probably get a lot of crap for this, but I think the services recognize that the MRAP isn’t what they need but theyre responding to the congressional love affair with the vehicle because they have to. The push is forcing the services to buy MRAPs from nine different manufacturers, and though military officials insist theyre all similar mechanically, you know there are going to be widgets and nick-knacks that are different, requiring their own logistics chain.
And what will the Army and Marine Corps do with these vehicles after U.S. involvement in Iraq is drawn down, which no matter how you look at it is inevitable soon? The services are spending millions on the development of a new version of the Humvee that answers a lot of the shortfalls found in the 1980s-era vehicle, including a blast-deflecting underbody and gas-hybrid engines. But with thousands of MRAP vehicles sitting in motor pools around the country, it may be difficult to justify spending money on an improved Humvee.
My last problem with the MRAP is that its too big and intimidating. Fielding a vehicle that troops are supposed to travel in every time they go outside the wire that looks like it will crush you if you even look at it doesnt seem to me to be a good way to win hearts and minds, and makes it difficult to interact with a population youre trying to win over. At least in a Humvee youre a ground level and can quickly jump out to pass a few soccer balls to the kids. Not so in the Cougar, which is so far off the ground and has such thick windows, its as if theres no human in the thing at all.
What would Gen. Petraeus say if he were asked his honest opinion of the MRAP infatuation? Does it serve his counterinsurgency plan at all?