MRAP — The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

How long will the mine-resistant, ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle love affair last? 

It seems high marks have been bestowed upon MRAP by in-theater operators as well as outer-limits stakeholders. MRAP is that massive and unwieldy vehicle, a heavily armored personnel transporter designed to withstand the current crop of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — and maybe whatever else those dedicated freedom fighters can scrape together and detonate around U.S. forces. 

On the upside, numbers show these wheeled monsters with their V-shaped undercarriage have literally saved life and limb, so it’s no surprise they might be boosting the morale and confidence of the boys and girls in uniform — and a whole lotta body armor. Their day-to-day psyche is crucial to success (by any definition) on the ground and recruiting and retention on the home front. 

But how small is this window of bliss? 

Possibly pretty small, and it’s anyone’s guess when MRAP will join its older brothers and sisters in the Pasture of Obsolescence. Remember the Up-Armored HUMVEE? MRAP, though highly effective thus far, has a chink or two in its armor, sustaining some damage and a few injuries (possibly one fatality). Nothing’s perfect. 

MRAP buys some time — and this spending freefall is of concern. According to a DoD spokesperson, we’re talking $22.4 billion funded to date and more than 14,000 MRAPs ordered across the services. How much time until the next generation of weaponry — explosive or otherwise — from our not-so-friendly hosts bursts on the scene? The Joint IED Defeat Office in Washington, D.C., is working to attack the IED network and defeat the device. Despite a staggering $4 billion budget in fiscal 2008 alone and a staff clocking in at more than 300 people, we’re not deluding ourselves. 

Two things are certain: thousands of MRAPs and tens of billions of dollars blown out the fire hose on the IED five-alarmer. (We won’t bother with who’s getting those billions.) Given the MRAP’s major limitations — size, weight, fuel consumption — we are unsure if its rapid and large-scale procurement was prudent. We’re not so sure the services wanted as many as they ordered, but that’s just a hunch. 

It has been written that conceptually MRAP is at odds with a proven counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy. Maybe MRAP plays better to mom and dad (who vote) than COIN.

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