Soldiers I know have a love hate relationship with the MRAP, aka, the “mine resistant ambush protected” vehicle, pronounced in acronymese as “em-wrap.” The MRAP replaced the Humvee as ride of choice for U.S. forces in Iraq, and a new version is on its way to Afghanistan, as Yochi Dreazen lays out in his WSJ story today.
What do soldiers hate about the MRAP? They’re slow, they break down all the time, they get stuck really easily, they’re a pain in the ass to take care of, they’re really big and clunky and hard to maneuver. (Personally I found the way the back door closes–it’s on this strange hydraulic system–to be really annoying. That was a system that also seemed to break easily.) On my last embed in Khost province, we sat for an afternoon after one of the MRAPS got stuck in the mud on a way to a village and had to be pulled out by two other MRAPS, basically ensuring no missions were really completed that day. This, I was told, was a pretty common occurence.
What do soldiers love about the MRAP? Simple. They keep you alive. Roadside bombs that would have totaled Humvees, killing everyone inside, can now be survived. A unit I was with had just got their new MRAPS lat summer when they ran over a bomb that would have killed them just two weeks earlier if they’d been in their Humvees. The injuries in this case were minor–a broken wrist, a few bells rung.
So, it appears, the Pentagon is trying to take out what the Joes hate about the truck for the fight in Afghanistan. The MRAP was bought for Iraq, to protect against roadside bombs, but wasn’t designed with “any vision of needing to handle the rough terrain that’s common in Afghanistan,” says Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan. The 16,000 vehicle “$28.2 billion MRAP fleet,” as Dreazen notes, didn’t take into account things like mountains and dirt roads and that other war. So the new design is going to have axles that don’t break and a nifty new suspension system.
Two big picture comments, one obvious, one not so/as much.
Each MRAP costs around a million dollars a piece. That million dollar price tag is to protect against the roadside bombs that can be made in Insurgent Ali’s garage for a few dollars to a couple hundred bucks a pop. (Perhaps a higher cost for the more hi-tech EFP, or shaped charges, that caused all sorts of problems for Humvees.) I’d say our enemies here out did us on the cost effectiveness scale.
A subtler issue with these big armored vehicles: it’s not an accident that MRAP’s were designed by (eh, white) South Africans in 1970. These things scream Occupier. One could argue (and it has been argued) that driving around in big armored vehicles isn’t really conducive to the kind of counterinsurgency/drinking chai with tribal elder/goat-feasting-style of warfare that the Army claims to be embracing. In fact, it sounds alot like the much maligned “old army”: relying on technology to solve the problem. The more armor, the more tempting it is to stay inside the armor, keeping the barriers up between occupier and occupied. The more armor, the higher chance of increasing the day to day incidents and aggravations of driving around the local neighborhood during the nitty gritty occupational grind. Again, points for our guerilla enemies–anything they can do to make the population scared of us is a win for them.
Bonus question: is it ironic that road construction in Afghanistan is one of the most important parts of our reconstruction project, in part, because we need new roads to drive around in our expensive new vehicles?