The MRAP: Brilliant Buy, or Billions Wasted?

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TONY KARUMBA / AFP / Getty Images

Army soldiers attached to the 2nd platoon, C-Coy. 1-23 Infantry based at Zangabad foward operating base in Panjwai district are silhouetted in a dust cloud after detonating Anti Personell Obstacle Breaching System during a dawn operation at Naja-bien village on Sept. 23, 2012.

The Pentagon celebrated its Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicle program at the Pentagon on Monday, but the biggest question was left hanging: did the nearly $50 billion investment in MRAPs make sense?

Vice President Joe Biden joined Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter to herald the hulking machines, built and initially flown to Afghanistan and Iraq when IEDs began killing U.S. troops in alarming numbers.

The ceremony highlighted the work of civilian and military personnel who helped procure and field the 24,000 MRAPs to U.S. and coalition forces. And signaled the end of the MRAP production line.

MRAPs with their V-shaped, blast-deflecting hulls are “one of the most important acquisitions to come off the line since World War II,” Carter said. It is, he added, the Defense Department’s most important program “in the last decade.”

MRAP-like vehicles were few and far between in 2003, limited to route clearance and explosive ordinance disposal. Over the next four years the daily number of IED attacks increased six-fold, and it became clear that up-armored High Mobility, Multi-Wheeled Vehicles (Humvees) weren’t up to the job.

In May 2007 then-defense secretary Robert Gates told top Pentagon officials that “the MRAP should be considered the highest priority Department of Defense acquisition program.” Correspondingly, MRAP production surged from 82 vehicles a month in June 2007 to 1,300 vehicles amonth in December 2007. The average MRAP costs about $1 million.

Still, the MRAPs couldn’t come fast enough. Franz Gayl, a Marine science adviser, blew the whistle on bureaucratic ineptitude, after requests for more than 1,000 MRAPs were held up for 19 months during the height of the Iraqi insurgency, according to the Government Accountability Project.

Michael J. Sullivan, a military-procurement expert at the Government Accountability Office, told the House Armed Services Committee in 2009 that the trucks were coming off the assembly line so fast that testing and fielding had a “high degree of overlap” resulting in “orders for thousands of vehicles [being] placed before operational testing.”

Despite the flawed production process, lack of testing, and bulky handling, MRAPs were praised for their ability to save lives and limbs. In 2010, USA Today reported that MRAPs cut casualties from 2000 to 2010 by 30%, perhaps saving dozens of lives each month. In 2011, the Pentagon MRAP shop estimated that MRAPs saved up to a stunning 40,000 lives — 10,000 in Iraq and 30,000 Afghanistan.

But there’s been a recent reappraisal. In July, Chris Rohlfs and Ryan Sullivan wrote in Foreign Affairs that “the heavily-protected vehicles were no more effective at reducing casualties than the medium armored vehicles.” And the MRAPs are “three times as expensive as medium protected vehicles.”

The study suggested that the “40,000 saved lives” figure was an “unreasonable” premise that assumes “if the Army used up-armored Humvees rather than MRAPs, every attack on a vehicle would have resulted in the death of everyone inside.” While it is clear MRAPs saved lives, it is absurd to assume a Humvee would lose every life it carried.  Increased MRAPs also did not prevent IED casualties from skyrocketing in 2010.

There’s also the question what becomes of the nearly 13,000 of the vehicles that remain in use in Afghanistan. “Can you imagine Franklin Roosevelt being told, `We need X number of landing craft on D-Day, but you know, once we land, we’re not going to need them all again, so why build them?’” Biden wondered Monday.

Back in 2007, General Jim Conway, then the Marine commandant, questioned the need for so many of the heavy vehicles. “Those vehicles weigh 40,000 pounds each in the larger category,” he said. “Frankly, you can’t put them in a helicopter and you can’t even put them aboard ship.” As for their use after these wars? “Wrap them in shrink wrap and put them in asphalt somewhere is about the best thing that we can describe at this point,” he said. “And as expensive as they are, that is probably not a good use of the taxpayers’ money.”

But that was five years ago, when perhaps the IED threat was seen more as a passing fad than a permanent player on the battlefield. That no longer seems to be the case. Last week, the Pentagon’s top IED killer warned that such roadside bombs will remain a persistent threat for decades to come. “The IED is the weapon of choice for threat networks because they are cheap, made from readily available off-the-shelf components, easy to construct, lethal and accurate,” said Army Lieut. General Michael Barbero, chief of the Joint IED Defeat Organization.

In which case it might make sense to have some shrink-wrapped and ready to go.


MRAPs are great, they saved many MANY lives in Afghanistan. My only requests: 1. Smooth out any corners and remove sharp edges from the interior. Also cap off any exposed screws, nuts & bolts. Bouncing around on off road missions can leave bruises. 2. Wider seats with more leg room and thicker flame proof padding. The seats are a tight fit when wearing armor and holding your rifle at the low ready. The tight fit keeps you bouncing around, but a bit of leg room goes a long way for combat soldiers! Padding & shock absorbing seats help prevent back injury. Overall - very nicely done. But the redesign engineers should spend a week or two LIVING Inside their MRAPs - in full armor & helmets - just like soldiers, eating nothing but MREs & water. Then they will discover all the "little things" needing tweaked & corrected for long term missions.


Well I guess the Dept of homeland security likes them. They just bought 2700. That should go real well with the 1.6 billion rounds of ammo they have stockpiled. Its a good buy right? Only about a million each.?

Lucia Matias
Lucia Matias

Anything that keeps our soldiers safer is worth the money and the effort.

At worst, MRAPs is an untested technology.  But they can be improved and in the near future save the lives of our soldiers.


We can't provide security for consulates/embassies in hotbed countries, but our country can afford toys for the Security Military Industrial Complex. Who's running this country anyway?


I write as one of the first five officers to have initiated the MRAP program as we know it today.  The first history of MRAP initiation was published in Small Wars Journal, July 2012. 


Anyone who studied the complete casualty data and then compared that to the casualty data used by Rohlfs/Sullivan  knows that their "analysis" is hogwash.  they cannot control for critical variables with the dataset they used.  By now, DoD has had dozens of much more qualified individuals analyze MRAP efficacy than these two.  One of them directly admitted no real understanding of vehicle tactics, yet their conclusion presupposed understanding of vehicle tactics in warfare.  They refused to name their sources for supposed understanding of tactics--obfuscation is a place where academicians and the Pentagon Establishment go to hide from reality.  No magic "VSL" statistics trick can make their data have integrity.


The MRAP makes no sense to me as anything other than a stop gap measure, and stop gap measures need to be cheap enough that they don't take resources away from investment in longer term solutions. Also, seeing as how IEDs are placed in static positions it makes no sense to me to combat IEDs with a vehicle that is bigger and heavier than the vehicle its replacing. Wouldnt the very size and weight that gives you more survivability over a Humvee give you less manuveravility than a Humvee? And wouldn't that reduced mobility allow IEDs to be concentrated in fewer and fewer chokepoints?

Any survivability advantages the MRAP has over the up amored Humvee (which is a life saver in its own right when compared to an unarmored model) should be balanced against any tactical or operational drawbacks it may have. We should be careful to remember that there are more lives at risk in war than just those within a specific vehicle. To the extent that the MRAP is survivable, we shoud also remember that there are more factors at play in war than what vehicle someone is driving or riding in, and I dont think its as easy to declare life or death with hypotheticals such as "if they were in a blank it would have turned out this way" when more often or not we really dont know.

What we do know is that the MRAP is not a silver bullet, there are no sucb things. People are still dying and being maimed by insurgents. Of course the insurgents are not playing by our attrition rulebook. Limiting our actions, traumitizing our troops or draining our coffers may work just as well for insurgents as killing our troops. From this view the MRAP is an utter failure. After spending 50 billion we are still losing life, limb, and sanity to IEDs, but with more logistical headaches. While we have taken years and years to spend vast sums of money to field and use MRAPs, how long did it take insurgents to start defeating them?

For the price of a couple of bags of fertilizer the insurgents can make bigger bombs, bonbs big enough to take out an MRAP. Whats the point of increased survivability if your dead anyways? Wait, maybe we can go even deeper in debt for even bigger vehicles, wont that work? Well, seeing as how tanks are still vulnerable to IEDs I doubt it.

Seeing as how the MRAP was built in response to bigger IEDs, shoulnt the government have expected the MRAP to be defeated by even bigger IEDs? Maybe an expensive vehicle isnt the solution. Maybe decision makers should spend less time thinking about the MRAP and more time developing a sustainable and articulate grand strategy that would cohesively join the layers of strategy, operations and tactics. Such a grand strategy could veyu well keep us out of some of these messes, and such a grand strategy should guide procurement. Too often its the other way around.


@WillLeach Exactly. I ve been saying this all the time. Whats common among americans is that they believe V-hull magically makes the vehicle ied-proof. However, as you well noted, any defence can be bypassed by big enough charge. The answer lies elsewhere.


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