Western militaries have have increasingly adopted vehicles designed from the outset for blast-resistance against land mines and even car bombs. A collective realization is sinking in that up-armoring flat-bottomed vehicles which aren’t designed to take that kind of weight, and which have strict limits on the level of protection they can ever provide, is an inadequate response. While existing vehicles will remain in inventory, patrol vehicles will and do need more. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the USA has fielded thousands of up-armored Hummers as a stopgap measure, even though their design is the very definition of the problems described above. In fairness, it has also placed hundreds of orders for genuinely blast-resistant vehicles like Force Protection’s Cougar and Buffalo, Textron’s M1117 Guardian ASV for its military police, and BAE OMC’s smaller RG-31 Nyala/Charger.
In late December, the US military stepped up the pace and announced a new program called MRAP, a tri-service procurement effort that could end up fielding 4,100 or more Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles in both patrol and squad carrier sizes. There were 9 approved competitors, and DID will cover the entire competition very soon – but even before testing has begun, Valentine’s Day 2007 orders went out to BAE Systems and Force Protection. These vehicles won’t be headed for the test range, but for the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. BAE’s newest offering is about to receive its trial by fire.