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A Primer in MRAP Variants

by Ward Carroll on October 23, 2007

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MRAP is an unusual program that involves rolling purchases of a wide range of vehicle types, all meeting the same basic mobility and protection requirements.

The requirements do not specify how a vehicle should meet them, so manufacturers take different approaches, with some embracing a monocoque style that combines the hull and chassis in a single piece, and others bolting an armored hull to a separate chassis, perhaps with a “belly plate” to protect the drive train. All hull designs are V-shaped, though some are flatter than others to maximize interior space.

The manufacturers give their vehicles model names like “Cougar” and “Alpha,” but the MRAP program office tends to refer to them only by category. The three categories in the program each describe a different weight class and size and are intended for different missions. The roughly 7,800 vehicles ordered as of August are split between the four main military services and Special Operations Command.

The following is a summary of the categories, vehicle types, key performance specifications, design strengths and weaknesses, and mission information for the MRAP vehicles procured by the Pentagon.

Category I: approximately 7–15 tons; at least 4 passengers, plus 2 crew; urban transport.

Category II: approximately 15–25 tons; up to 8 passengers, plus 2 crew; road escort, ambulance and bomb-disposal missions.

Category III: approximately 25 tons; at least 4 passengers, plus 2 crew; bomb disposal.

Category I

Cougar H 4 X 4: Force Protection Industries Inc. (Ladson, S.C.). Weight: 16 tons. Passengers: 4 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 785 + several for testing. Cost: $475,000. Features: Monocoque, flattened V-shaped hull extended to engine compartment; 330-hp. engine; dual air conditioners; rear door.

Reality check: Widely considered the “gold standard” of MRAP designs, the Cougar enjoyed considerable sales success even before MRAP. Force Protection built a small number of Tempest vehicles-basically early Cougars-for British Army engineers in 2002, followed by several hundred Cougars for the U.S. military between 2003 and 2006, mostly for engineer and bomb-disposal units. In April, Force Protection, citing military statistics, claimed that despite some 300 attacks targeting Cougars in Iraq, not one Marine died while riding in one. Force Protection builds Cougars at its main factory in Ladson as well as in a new facility in North Carolina, and has signed co-production agreements with General Dynamics and BAE Systems (for Iraqi army Cougars). The vehicle’s major weakness is poor off-road mobility, a consequence of its relatively heavy weight resulting from a high degree of protection. The design minimizes the use of glass to improve survivability, at the cost of passenger visibility.

RG-33 4 X 4: BAE Systems North America (Rockville, Md.). Weight: 14 tons. Passengers: 4 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 201 + several for testing. Cost: approximately $300,000. Features: Monocoque, flattened V-shaped hull that stops short of engine compartment; rear door.

Reality check: The RG-33 is a cousin of the RG-31, which itself is based on the South African Mamba design that incorporates a German-designed Unimog chassis. The RG series of vehicles makes extensive use of armored glass to improve visibility, with a slight penalty in survivability. Perhaps the design’s greatest weakness is its vulnerability to a “mobility kill” that destroys the lightly armored engine and leaves the crew stranded. RG-33s are manufactured on two lines in York, Pa., another in Texas and a fourth at a BAE-owned factory in South Africa. BAE’s acquisition of Armor Holdings LLC this summer significantly boosted the company’s ability to “up-armor” its MRAP designs. BAE representative Doug Coffey says that live-fire testing at Aberdeen, Md., proved the RG-33 to be the overall most survivable MRAP vehicle. He added that stockpiling adequate raw materials, especially armor-grade steel, was the biggest obstacle to fulfilling orders. RG-33 has an extensive combat record. U.S. Army and Marine Corps units use the vehicle in Iraq and Afghanistan for bomb-disposal and route-clearance missions.


MaxxPro 4 X 4: International Military and Government LLC (Warrenville, Ill.). Weight: 16 tons. Passengers: 4 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 1,955 + several for testing. Cost: $548,000. Features: Commercial truck chassis with a bolt-on V-shaped armored hull; 330-hp. engine; rear door.

Reality check: Commercial truck-maker International was a surprise winner in the first round of MRAP purchases; MaxxPro scored more orders than any other type. Assistant General Manager Bob Walsh credits the company’s huge factory capacity and support base, as well as MaxxPro’s two-piece design. “It does a very good job of redirecting energy [from bomb blasts].” Repairability: “Being cab-on-chassis, you’re able to pull off this body and slide a new chassis in.” The successful German Dingo vehicle embraces a similar design philosophy, but there’s a reason most MRAP types feature single-piece monocoque hulls: On a bolt-on design, a powerful blast might separate the hull from the chassis, resulting in a mobility kill that strands the crew. MaxxPro chassis are manufactured in Garland, Tex.; hulls are made in West Point, Miss.

Caiman 4 X 4: Armor Holdings LLC (Jacksonville, Fla.). Weight: 14 tons. Passengers: 4 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 1,154 + several for testing. Cost: $443,000. Features: Family of medium tactical vehicle (FMTV) chassis with a V-shaped armored hull; rear door.

Reality check: Armor Holdings has released few details about the Caiman design, stressing only that it is lighter than many MRAPs. Caiman has chassis components common to the FMTV utility truck, a feature that should simplify maintenance and support. The design reportedly boasts better off-road performance than the heavier Cougar. Work is performed in Sealy, Tex., and Fairfield, Ohio.

Alpha 4 X 4: Oshkosh Truck (Oshkosh, Wis.). Weight: 13 tons. Passengers: 6 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 100 + several for testing. Cost: $306,000. Features: Monocoque layout with V-shaped armored hull; rear door.

Reality check: Despite being one of the biggest builders of military utility trucks, Oshkosh designs have fared poorly in the MRAP competition. Alpha was intended to be a smaller, lighter MRAP in order to facilitate rapid shipping and improve urban maneuverability. But testing at Aberdeen, as well as limited field testing with combat units, proved Alpha to be more vulnerable than other designs-this despite special armor co-developed by Battelle and Protected Vehicles Inc. The Marine Corps informed Oshkosh that it would not order more than the initial batch of 100.

RG-31 Mk 5 4 X 4: General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (London, Ont.). Weight: 9 tons. Passengers: 10 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 10 + several for testing. Cost: approximately $300,000. Features: Monocoque, flattened V-shaped hull that stops short of engine compartment; rear door.

Reality check: The U.S. Army and Canadian forces used the relatively lightweight RG-31 in Iraq and Afghanistan, where it has proved popular but somewhat less survivable than the Cougar. Canadian RG-31s have been involved in several fatal bombings and have suffered mechanical problems. Mechanical faults also drove the British Army to retire a handful of RG-31s it purchased in the 1990s. GDLS is partnered with BAE in South Africa on RG-31 production. The Army continues to purchase the model for route clearance outside of the MRAP program. RG-31s in Iraq have been fitted with cage armor to protect against rocket-propelled grenades.

M1117 4 X 4: Textron (Providence, R.I.). Weight: 12 tons. Passengers: 8 + 3 crew. MRAP I orders: 4 for testing. Features: Flattened V-shaped hull; side door; 260-hp. engine. Cost: $690,000.

Reality check: Textron pitched this stretched variant of its successful Armored Security Vehicle, more than 1,000 of which have been ordered by the U.S. Army for convoy escort duty in Iraq. The M1117 is lighter and has a flatter hull bottom than the other contenders, and these liabilities apparently doomed the vehicle. The Marine Corps bought only four test examples. The New Orleans factory that makes ASVs was heavily damaged in Hurricane Katrina in 2005; there were doubts that Textron could increase production to meet MRAP demand, even if the vehicle had proved survivable enough. The M1117 also is more expensive than other Category I MRAPs.

Category II

Cougar HE 6 X 6: Force Protection Industries Inc. (Ladson, S.C.). Weight: 24 tons. Passengers: 10 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 920 + several for testing. Cost: $644,000. Features: Monocoque, flattened V-shaped hull extended to engine compartment; dual air conditioners; rear door.

Reality check: The roomier six-wheeled Cougar variant is prized by bomb squads for its ability to carry an ordnance-disposal robot and controls with room to spare; many of the pre-MRAP 6 X 6 orders were placed by the Navy on behalf of the military bomb-disposal community. The British and Iraqi armies were first to embrace the 6 X 6 for other missions. In 2006, Force Protection sold 400 Cougar HE variants to the Iraqi army and 108 to the British Army. The British “Mastiffs,” as they are called, reportedly boast superior protection against explosively formed penetrator bombs.

RG-33L 6 X 6: BAE Systems North America (Rockville, Md.). Weight: 22 tons. Passengers: 12 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 330 + several for testing. Cost: approximately $630,000. Features: Monocoque, flattened V-shaped hull that stops short of engine compartment; rear door, exportable power; robotic claw arm.

Reality check: This stretched and widened RG-33 variant is fitted for the same roles as the Cougar HE, with the addition of a robotic arm like that on the larger Buffalo MRAP, used to probe suspected explosive devices. The RG-33’s lower height compared to the Buffalo will probably make it an inferior arm platform.

RG-31E 6 X 6: General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (London, Ont.). Weight: approximately 20 tons. Passengers: at least 10 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 610 + several for testing. Cost: $559,000. Features: Monocoque, flattened V-shaped hull that stops short of engine compartment; rear door.

Reality check: A stretched RG-31 variant, the E model has yet to appear in public and the manufacturer has released only basic details, but it should be broadly similar to the RG-33L.

MaxxPro XL 4 X 4: International Military and Government LLC (Warrenville, Ill.). Weight: 18 tons. Passengers: 10 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 16 + several for testing. Cost: $540,000. Features: Commercial truck chassis with a bolt-on V-shaped armored hull; rear door.

Reality check: A heavier, stretched MaxxPro. As with many Category II MRAPs, the MaxxPro XL uses the same engine as its smaller, lighter Category I counterpart, meaning slightly degraded performance.

Golan 4 X 4: Protected Vehicles Inc. (North Charleston, S.C.). Weight: 15 tons. Passengers: 10 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 60 + several for testing. Cost: $623,000. Features: Monocoque, V-shaped armored hull; rear door.

Reality check: PVI was a subcontractor to Oshkosh on that company’s failed Alpha MRAP; PVI’s own Golan has fared little better. There has been no indication that the Pentagon will order any beyond the initial batch of 60. While awaiting orders, PVI has cut its work force in half, and is currently fighting a lawsuit relating to issues about the departure of PVI founder Garth Barrett from rival Force Protection Inc., where he was president. Force Protection claims Barrett stole a hard drive containing confidential data. Barrett is countersuing. Executive representative Drew Felty says the lack of interest in Golan is not due to survivability. “We have what we call a triad solution: we’ve got protection against IEDs-including fragmentation, EFP (explosively formed penetrator) and RPG, all in one vehicle.” The design features modular armor blocks on the sides and cage armor over the windows. PVI has the advantage of being located near the Navy’s SPAWAR Systems Center, which integrates turrets and electronics in MRAPs, and Charleston AFB, where many MRAPs embark for flights to Iraq.

Caiman 6 X 6: Armor Holdings LLC (Jacksonville, Fla.). Weight: 24 tons. Passengers: approximately 10 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 16 + several for testing. Cost: approximately $600,000. Features: FMTV chassis with a V-shaped armored hull; rear door.

Reality check: As with the Category I Caiman, Armor Holdings has released few details about this vehicle, only stressing its FMTV utility truck chassis.

Category III

Buffalo 6 X 6: Force Protection Industries Inc. (Ladson, S.C.). Weight: 25 tons. Passengers: 4 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 58 + several for testing. Cost: $856,000. Features: Monocoque, flattened V-shaped hull extended to engine compartment; 400-hp. engine; rear door; robotic claw arm.

Reality check: The Buffalo is the only vehicle qualifying for MRAP Category III, owing to its unique features: greater size, weight and height, which make it cumbersome but extremely survivable, and an excellent platform for the robotic arm used to prod suspected bombs. Buffaloes in Iraq have been seen fitted with cage armor to protect against RPGs. Buffalo is a direct descendant of the South African Casspir design that is in widespread military and civil use for mine-clearance.

Aviation Week’s DTI

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