On Monday the Pentagon ceased production of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP), perhaps the most iconic acquisition program of the past ten years. The trucks were designed and built in response to the urgent need to protect service members in Iraq from the pervasive improvised explosive device (IED) threat. The vehicle went through five different iterations and the production lines produced 27,740 trucks. The total price tag came to $47.7 billion. For all the investment, what are we left with?
The vehicle may be of use to the U.S. Army, but there is little place for the armored monstrosities in the Marine Corps. They are too heavy to be practical on the Navy’s amphibious warships. Marine Corps and Navy leaders rightly are concerned about the weight of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, so the weight issue is a red line for integrating the trucks into permanent service. Any MRAPs remaining on the Marine Corps rolls will most likely be stripped of their radios and mothballed.
There are other issues outside of shipping. The weight and high center of gravity make MRAPs prone to rollovers. It makes a poor command-and-control platform as the radios are located at the rear of the vehicle. The vehicle commander has to station someone at the radios and then yell at that person to switch channels for him. This is aggravating if you need to be able to call in supporting arms from multiple agencies. In most other military vehicles, the radios are located where the vehicle commander can manipulate them himself. The MRAP is not designed to carry cargo, so its utility as a logistics platform is zero. Its poor off-road ability prevents its use as an attack platform. It is very good, however, at one thing: absorbing an IED blast and protecting the troops inside.
This is a natural but not unforeseeable result of the way the MRAP was procured. The enemy surprised the U.S. military with the IED threat and the Department of Defense sought an immediate technological solution. On one hand, the MRAP and the speed at which it was fielded is a testament to American ingenuity and adaptability. On the other hand, it’s a reminder of both the poor strategic decisions that led to the need for the vehicle and our limits, as we are now stuck with a vehicle that has little use outside of the environment and situation for which it was designed. Many of the first MRAPs, designed for the flat ground of Iraq, were ineffective in Afghanistan which led to the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR) variant.
The MRAP was produced for one reason and one reason alone: to survive IED strikes. Even its official name describes it as a vehicle destined to be attacked: “Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected.” It performs this function exceedingly well. Fortunately so, as the vehicle has no doubt saved thousands of lives. A great deal of treasure was invested in the vehicle, but it paid us back in blood saved. The vehicle mitigated the effects of our own hubris and lack of preparedness. Now it can be retired, but hopefully the lessons surrounding it will not be forgotten.