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MRAP Madness

2:05 PM, Apr 19, 2007 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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MRAP vehicles--mine resistant ambush protected--are all the rage, and for good reason. The Pentagon plans to purchase as many as 8,000 of the vehicles, from as many as nine different suppliers, for operations in Iraq. I've covered MRAP here in the past on numerous occasions, and over the past few months, as Congress has gotten more involved, MRAP has gone mainstream. It may not be a household term yet, but the program's profile has been raised considerably.

Which is why I think it might be time to take a step back and sound a word of caution. The Danger Room links to this story in USA Today claiming that not a single Marine has been injured in an IED attack while riding in an MRAP vehicle. That may be true, but it is misleading. American soldiers have died in IED attacks on MRAP vehicles, at least three were killed last fall while riding in a Force Protection vehicle according to the company's vice president, Mike Aldrich, who I spoke with a few moths ago. The details of that attack remain classified, but we should not foster the illusion that MRAP is a silver-bullet solution to the IED problem.

IED attacks are the greatest threat to American troops in Iraq, and the disaster that is the Humvee has left those troops acutely exposed to attack from the devices, most of which are crudely fashioned. But even MRAP, with its additional armor and v-shaped hull, will do little to protect American troops from the deadly explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) that are making their way into the country from Iran. Those devices are capable of penetrating the armor on a tank, let alone an MRAP. And while the v-shape hull is an improvement, a large mine is capable of flipping even a tank over onto its turret--MRAP won't fare any better.

So while I'm as big a supporter of MRAP as anyone, even though the program will cost a fortune and, with nine different suppliers, is likely to be a logistical nightmare, I worry that what is clearly a defensive technology will distract from what ought to be the primary response to the IED problem: going out and killing bad guys. The only way to neutralize the threat is to go after the networks that are bringing these weapons to bear, building them, planting them, and detonating them. MRAP can save countless lives and should be pursued regardless of price, but these vehicles won't kill the bad guys. Americans will happily pay for a technology that saves lives, but if Congress wants to work toward a lasting IED solution, they'd be better off spending their time finding ways to support General Petraeus' as he seeks to implement an effective COIN strategy. It's easy for Congressmen to make a show of supporting the troops by devoting themselves to getting those troops defensive technologies--more body armor, more armor for their Humvees, MRAP vehicles--but winning the war will require an equal measure of support for offensive operations. That's a tougher sell to constituents for some Congressmen, but that's leadership.

MRAP vs. Humvee.jpg
An MRAP vehicle on the left, Humvee on the right.