US Army: 17,000 MRAP Vehicles to Replace Hummers?
South Africa invented and proved vehicles adapted for an environment of insurgent land-mine warfare over 30 years ago. Even as US forces entered Iraq and began encountering this tactic themselves, however, allied countries like Germany (Dingo 2) and Australia (Bushmaster) had also developed specialized vehicles that could meet the threat, and fielded them in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After 4 years of combat in an arena that featured IED land mines as the #1 threat, the US military’s success in fielding limited numbers of blast-resistant Cougar and Buffalo vehicles finally drew the attention of senior military officials, and the civilian politicians to whom they report. The military’s order of MRAP (Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected) vehicles went from 1,000 vehicles in 2006, to 4,100 later that year, and soon thereafter to 7,774 vehicles. Within that expanded order, however, only 2,500 were for the Army; 3,700 were for the US Marines, who vowed to make every patrol vehicle operating “outside the wire” in Iraq’s Anbar province an MRAP vehicle.
The discrepancy in those commitments has drawn political attention again, this time from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates…
In a May 2, 2007 internal letter, Gates said that:
“The MRAP should be considered the highest priority Department of Defense acquisition program… I would like to know what funding, material, program, legal or other limits currently constrains the program and options available to overcome them.”
A May 9, 2007 press briefing offered Secretary Gates the opportunity to expand on those thoughts:
“GATES: Well, I think the first thing that caught my attention, as is often the case, was a newspaper article that indicated that, out of something like 300 incidents involving IEDs, where these MRAP vehicles were involved, no Marines had been killed. And that certainly got my attention. And the more we looked into it, it was clear that there was a lot of interest in this. There’s clearly interest in it on the Hill. They’ve added money to the supplemental to buy more MRAPs. My concern is that the rate of production is nowhere near what it needs to be to meet the demand on the part of either the Army or the Marine Corps. And there’s several different categories of these things. And one of the questions I had, the Marines had actually, at one point, ordered a lot more of these vehicles than the Army had. And that was the basis of my question about how they looked at it differently. My understanding — I haven’t seen the piece of paper on it — is that the Army has been recalibrating its interest and has substantially increased the number of these vehicles they think they can use.
QUESTION: General Pace, you were around (inaudible) the controversy about we don’t have enough up-armored Humvees. The Pentagon spent billions of dollars to get about 12,000, 13,000 in- theater. Now you have to buy a new vehicle almost supplanting the Humvee. What went wrong? Was that vehicle not effective in the long run?
PACE: I think what you have is a natural evolution of technology and very sharp people in business and industry looking at the problem and devising different ways to defeat that problem. And the up-armored Humvee… and then the enhanced armor on the Humvees — same thing with protective body armor: a certain way to defend yourself, then another manufacturer determines how to do it with — thinner and lighter. The same thing happens throughout the business world as people tackle problems. What this is, is the next evolution of vehicles that is responding to the under-belly attacks that sometimes take place. So it’s a natural progression, I believe, of lighter, more effective, more resistant armor — both personal and vehicle.”
The invention is hardly new, but the commitment is. There are also reports that the commanding general of Multi-National Corps-Iraq Gen. Odierno intends to follow the Marines’ lead, and replace every HMMWV operating outside of US bases with blast-resistant vehicles. The US Army informs DID that there are approximately 19,000 HMMWVs serving in Iraq, out of a total global fleet of about 120,000.
A Gannett Army Times report speculates that the number of vehicles requested could be as high as 17,000 by end of 2010, even though blast-resistant vehicles are likely to be at least twice as expensive as the Humvees they replace. They may also be bought through another program – one not run by the US Marines, who are the lead service on MRAP.
DID has been corresponding with the US Army regarding an in-progress specification called MMPV – Medium Mine Protected Vehicle. Its specifications are very similar to MRAP’s; when asked what the difference was between the two programs, an Army spokesperson said:
“What separates these programs are different schedules and sustainment requirements, resulting in different acquisition strategies and source selection criteria priorities. The MMPV… Program of Record with emphasis on sustainment) and MRAP (emphasis on urgent fielding) have been in close coordination, especially from a hardware perspective.”
Meanwhile, MRAP-type programs have acquired serious momentum in Congress.
The House Armed Services Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee under Chairman Gene Taylor [D-MS] and Ranking Member Roscoe Bartlett [R-MD] recently proposed, in coordination with Chairman Abercrombie [D-HI] of the Air and Land Subcommittee, proposed $4.1 billion for MRAP vehicles for full House Armed Services committee consideration, re: the FY 2008 “request for ongoing military operations” (supplemental).
Even this request, however, was in the context of fulfilling the $8.4 billion order for 7,774 vehicles within the goal of a 2-year time frame. Now the Army is looking to add from 15,000-17,000 vehicles for production from FY 2008 – FY 2010.
Which raises the question of how the manufacturers, whose production lines are currently built for 100 vehicles or so per month, will manage. At present, 400 vehicles per month appears to be the most any MRAP manufacturer has promised to produce, and that’s assuming production growth over the course of the contract. A total of 23,000-25,000 vehicles in 2 1/2 years is likely to prove something of a challenge, therefore, even with several vendors participating. Even, one might add, with BAE Systems $4.53 billion purchase of production at Armor Holdings.
With sudden awareness and urgency, it seems, comes issues of industrial capacity. If Secretary of Defense Gates is looking for limits to pay attention to, he can start right there.
Better that limit, of course, than a limit of awareness.