Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) Vehicle Program
A ceremony was held at the Pentagon on 1 October 2012, to mark the end of production of vehicles for the MRAP program. Nearly 28,000 vehicles based on 7 core variants had been produced in the preceding 5 years, with 24,059 vehicles fielded to Iraq and Afghanistan. In total, $47.4 billion had been appropriated for the program from its inception in 2007 through FY12. The vehicles had been credited with saving thousands of lives.
MRAPs are a family of vehicles produced by a variety of domestic and international companies that generally incorporate a "V"-shaped hull and armor plating designed to provide protection against the three primary kill mechanisms of mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs): fragmentation, blast overpressure, and acceleration. These vehicles provide the best currently available protection against IEDs. Experience in theater showed that a Soldier or Marine was four to five times less likely to be killed or injured in an MRAP-type vehicle than in an up-armored High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV).
The DoD, per Joint Service requirements, detailed three categories of MRAP. These include:
- Category I vehicles, weighing about 7 tons and designed for use in urban environments, transports up to six personnel.
- Category II vehicles, weighing about 19 tons, for convoy escort, troop transport, and ambulance evacuation, transports up to 10 personnel.
- Category III vehicles, intended to be used primarily route clearance and explosive ordnance disposal, weighing about 22.5 tons and capable of carrying up to 12 passengers.
Vehicles fitting these descriptions had been in use by the US Army and US Marine Corps by 2003, but in very limited numbers and for specialized missions, such as Explosive Ordnance Destruction and other rout clearance work. These vehicles quickly gained a reputation for providing superior protection for their crews, leading to a suggestion that similar vehicles might be a better alternative for transporting troops in combat than uparmored HMMWVs.
Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were seen to prove that USMC unarmored ground vehicles were unsuitable to support combat operations. Mine warfare was nothing new to the US. In WWII and Korea, the US lost about 5 percent of its casualties to mines and ambushes. However, mine related casualties skyrocketed to 33 percent during Vietnam and 26 percent for Somalia.
In Operations Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, RPGs, mines, IEDs, and small arms fire had been responsible for over 30 percent of Marine Corps level III and IV casualties. According to audiotapes released in November 2004, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi ordered his followers to "Block off all their main and secondary supply lines for these are their main arteries and ambush them along those routes for they are exposed and easy prey." The Corps was responding to the threat slowly because it took time for industry to build what was needed. As a result the enemy adapted before the Corps got a chance to protect Marines. As of 2005 the enemy was said to be inside the Corp's OODA loop (Orient-Observe-Decide-Act, a thought process model at the heart of the USMC's post-2005 warfighting philosophy) and had the Marines chasing their tales.
The Marine Corps responded to these guerilla tactics by with a proactive-reactive strategy in order to increase the survivability of vehicles. Marines began armoring vehicles with steel from whatever source was available, and then as the threat grew and evolved, followed this ad hoc armor with factory produced Marine Armor Kits (MAK) for HWWMVs and Marine Armor Systems (MAS) for MTVRs. This was then followed with the acquisition of the ultimate in HMMWV protection, the Up-Armored HMMWV. These armoring efforts provided an immediate response to the threat that saved lives and reduced casualties. However, it did not correct the deficiencies that still existed with the current ground tactical vehicle fleet. The MAK and MAS kits were expected to afford the time needed to launch a counter-attack aimed at the heart of the problem: the vulnerability of the existing ground tactical vehicle fleet.
The existing ground tactical vehicle fleet did not have the survivability needed to support and sustain operations on the modern battlefield. While the US had superior intelligence collection, training, and tactical skill, the enemy continued to exploit the vulnerability of Marines in the unarmored vehicle fleet. The most likely threat the Ground Tactical Vehicle Fleet (GTVF) was expected to encounter under the ship to objective maneuver (STOM) scenario was a combination of mines and small arms employed by unconventional forces operating in a non-contiguous battlespace. The legacy GTVF was not designed to withstand this threat. The GTVF was designed to support the Cold War linear battlefield.
The Marine Corps therefore decided it had to develop a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) combat vehicle fleet capable of sustained operations in a chaotic, mine-infested, non-linear battlespace. Marines could no longer disregard survivability in favor of reliance on the ability to predict and neutralize threats. Unprotected vehicles resulted in unnecessary casualties that degraded operational readiness and that were politically untenable. There was a fleeting opportunity to skip a generation in research and development and move directly to a mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle designed from the ground up that gives us an order of magnitude increase in survivability.
A Baseline Survivability Index would be similar to how the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration establishes Federal Highway Safety Standards to protect vehicle occupants. If the Marines established a BLSI for every Marine Corps Vehicle, it would mitigate and reduce risk associated with combat and non-combat killers. Every vehicle system would possess the same Base Line Survivability Index. To the USMC every Marine is a rifleman, and every vehicle system is a weapon system. If it is going to go into harms way, if someone is going to shoot at it with real bullets, it needs to be protected from that threat. The BLSI would specify key performance parameters that would protect every Marine operator to a specified minimum level. That level should be established in combat because it would be the goal to ensure that every vehicle system becomes a combat vehicle system. The end result would be a Ground Tactical Vehicle Fleet that would become a Ground Combat Vehicle Fleet that would survivable, adaptable and supports operations across across the range of military operations.
This would create a Multi-mission Mult-role Family of Vehicles: RECON, C2, Cargo Truck, Fighting Vehicle. It would have to be capable of fighting and sustaining among non-linear battlespace. It would be required to be strategically agile and tactically mobile to enable broad range of big M and little M operations. Getting to the battlefield only to by stymied by mines would not be acceptable. Adversary countries were already purchasing this capability.
The requirement for MRAP was not limited solely to combat operations. The mine and IED threat had been pervasive throughout most of the developing world and the vulnerability of US ground tactical vehicles was a liability any time the US deployed. According to the International Committee to Ban Landmines, over 87 countries have significant landmine or unexploded ordnance (UXO) problems. This coupled with the easy accessibility of mines and other ordnance on the world arms market makes MRAP essential for every Marine vehicle. The enemies of the United States would spare no expense, and with mines would not have to, to kill Marines whenever they might be given the opportunity.
LTG Emerson N. Gardner, Jr., served as the Deputy Commandant for Programs and Resources, Headquarters, United States Marine Corps until mid-2007. He was a particularly strong advocate for the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected family of vehicles. These vehicles had the possibility of drastically reducing American casualties caused by improvised explosive devices and Lieutenant General Gardner was among those leading the effort to secure support for them. Lieutenant General Gardner took the time to educate, encourage, guide, and when necessary to cajole and prod, decisionmakers and action officers wherever necessary to accelerate the fielding of MRAP vehicles. Throughout the process, he was involved in every aspect of the MRAP program. So ardent was Lieutenant General Gardner in support of this program, that he has became known within Headquarters Marine Corps and throughout the Pentagon as "Mr. MRAP."
In a memorandum to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff dated 1 March 2007, General James Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps wrote "The MRAP vehicle has a dramatically better record of preventing fatal and serious injuries from attacks by IEDs. The Commander of Multinational Force West estimates that the use of MRAP could reduce the casualties in vehicles due to IED attacks by as much as 80 percent." By April 2007 there had been 300 IED attacks in Iraq against the MRAP since it was introduced in 2006, and not one death in those attacks. According to Marine Corps BG John Allen, Deputy Commander of Coalition Forces in Anbar Province, there had been an average of less than one injured marine per attack on the vehicles, while attacks on other types of vehicles caused more than two casualties per attack, including deaths. By early 2007, over 3,300 US troops had been killed in Iraq, and as many as 70 percent of those casualties had come as a result of improvised explosive devices, IEDs.
The subsequent RFP and multi-award contract outlined 4x4 vehicles to be used for urban combat missions (referred to as Category I) and 6x6 vehicles for convoy escort, troop transport, explosive ordinance disposal, and ambulance missions (referred to as Category II). These categories were those detailed in the original RFP requirements. By 2008, vehicles for clearing mines and improvised explosive devices had been added to the requirements in a seperate Category III.
MRAP vehicles exist today. Companies abroad and in the United States produce MRAP systems, and both Army and Marine Corps engineers were successfully exploiting this technology in Iraq and Afghanistan. MRAP-equipped units that before required dedicated infantry support to complete their mission would now be equipped with a survivable, offensive weapon system that would enable independent operations. MRAP vehicles are inherently offensive in character, built from the ground up to survive a combination of mines, RPGs and small arms fire, and would better support Marine concepts of Ship to Objective Maneuver and the emerging concept of distributed operations.
The cost of acquiring a MRAP vehicle fleet would be significant. However, proponents arguded that it was militarily and financially less expensive to acquire MRAP vehicles than to continue to suffer casualties. Protecting people had historically been and continues to be cheaper than replacing them in an all-volunteer service. Research by the Math and Statistics branch of the Naval Safety Center was said to indicated that the financial costs associated to casualties should be adjusted upward no less than 250% from its current 1988 baseline to account for the real dollar costs of care and replacement -- adjusted enlisted casualties average $500,000 dollars while officers, depending upon their military occupation range from one to two million dollars each. This meant the average light tactical vehicle with one officer and four enlisted personnel was protecting 2.5 million dollars of the DOD's budget. This $2.5 million was real O&M money. The argument that "we can't afford armored vehicles" has been said to be specious. The opposite is true, at 2.5 million dollars of precious cargo each, the Corps cannot afford unarmored vehicles.
While the MRAP program began as USMC initiative it became a Joint program involving the US Navy, USMC, US Army, US Air Force, and USSOCOM, with the US Navy as the lead service. All five of these groups were looking to aquire MRAP type vehicles for a variety of mission profiles exposed during their experience in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
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