“How do you not see it as a moral imperative to get as many of those vehicles to theater as rapidly as you can,” confronted Marine Commandant James Conway in a 2007 press conference. His frustration resulted from Congress’ reluctance to supply soldiers with mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles. Not even seven years later, Congress is faced with the problem of what to do with more than 25,000 of the purpose-built trucks. Some are finding homes in unlikely places.
MEETING A SPECIFIC MISSION
When the United States and its Coalition allies launched a ground assault in Iraq on March 20, 2003, U.S. troops were not adequately prepared for a new threat on the ground: The improvised explosive device, or “IED.” Enemy forces employed these remotely detonated bombs to attack convoys—the favorite targets being softskin HMMWVs or 6x6 trucks. Troops on the ground quickly adapted to the threat by armoring the sides and bellies of their trucks, but that was not enough. When a blast occurred against the horizontally armored undersides, it would likely flip the vehicle.
Faced with the challenge of protecting soldiers from flip-over situations, several companies entered their proposal for armored vehicles with V-shaped hulls. Out of this testing, the MRAP program evolved. Soon, these purpose-built vehicles were saving soldiers’ lives in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
But as so many of our readers know, gains on the battlefield come at the cost of something else. In the case of the MRAP, the gain was protection from IED-blasts. The sacrifice, however, was in mobility. The various MRAPs in Iraq all shared common shortfalls: Weight and the ability to safely navigate off-road.
As the War in Afghanistan developed, Oshkosh Trucks developed an MRAP more suitable for off-road driving, the MRAP All Terrain Vehicle or M-ATV. At the same time, Oshkosh provided suspension upgrades for many of the MRAPs already in service.
When the War in Iraq came to an end and the last of MRAPs were withdrawn in 2012, the question of what do with the purpose-built vehicles grew louder. The Army approved the M-ATV, the MaxxPro Dash ISS and MaxxPro Plus Ambulance ISS as the three enduring MRAP variants. All other MRAP variants were slated for disposal. The enduring inventory holds 8,585 MRAP vehicles. The Army is currently upgrading these with various retrofit kits to maximize capability. Safety upgrades are the highest priority. So what will become of the remaining 16,000+ vehicles?
Originally, plans called for moth-balling MRAPs in Kuwait with about 2,500 being returned to the United States for training purposes. Still others have been provided to our allies, such as Croatia and Poland. The remaining were to torched and destroyed. That is, until recently.
FINDING NEW ROLES
With so few MRAPs in the Army’s fleet, there are no plans to build “MRAP brigades” like they have with Stryker vehicles. Instead, MRAPs will be prepositioned in contingency sets, ready for specialized missions. Other MRAPs will be used as part of predeployment training sets. The vehicles slated for theses duties are sent from Kuwait, where they are currently stored, to Army depots to receive the performance enhancements developed for later models. The price to reset the vehicles isn’t cheap, though. The service estimates spending about $150,000 to reset each vehicle at the Red River Army Depot in Texas, and about $87,000 per vehicle at Livorno, Italy — the two depots that will see the majority of the work over the next three years. Other recent Army estimates of the costs to bring MRAPs home from Afghanistan and repair them have hovered closer to the $250,000 to $300,000 mark. It costs $12,000 to demilitarize each MRAP in Afghanistan before shipping it out of the country, so even if there are no buyers, the US will still have to pay tens of millions of dollars to clean and ship all the of the 11,000 MRAPs that it has deployed there.
MRAPs in good working condition are being offered for sale as-is to approved U.S. military allies. They are not being offered to Afghan security forces, however, because the Pentagon has concluded that they contain too much sophisticated computer technology for the still-developing Afghan military to operate. Maintenance of the vehicles is also too difficult for Afghan soldiers.
Defense News reported on Dec. 4, 2013, that the US has put about 2,000 MRAPs in Afghanistan up for auction on the international market instead of sending them home or destroying them in place — provided the foreign buyers pay to ship the trucks out of the country. The announcement has attracted about 380 orders from partner nations so far.
Lt. Gen. William Faulkner, the Marine Corp's deputy commandant, said in a speech in April that the military has too many of the hulking MRAPs, "The bottom line is, we don't need them." The military doesn’t need them—the mission for which they were designed has been accomplished.
So why are United States police departments and universities acquiring the vehicles?
WHERE IS THE THREAT?
Bear in mind, MRAPS were designed specifically to protect passengers from roadside bombs. Though they ultimately came to serve many functions, MRAP vehicles’ primary role was as convoy escort vehicles. So why do we continue to see reports of police departments like those in St. Cloud, Minn., and Salina, Calif., or even Ohio State University, acquiring surplus MRAP vehicles?
I suspect a bit of collector mentality has flooded in: Who can resist a bargain? The vehicles have been offered for just a few dollars to appropriate organizations as part of “homeland defense.” Second, they look cool—you can really turn heads with an 18-ton, 10-foot tall vehicle.
But therein, the question probably should have been asked, “Do we really need 18-ton, 10-foot tall vehicles to fulfill our police department’s mission?” The Army didn’t want to give these vehicles to our Afghan allies because it felt the Afghanistan Army couldn’t maintain the behemoths. Does it think the Dakota County (Minnesota) Police Department can drive their new MRAP down to Midas when it needs an oil change or tranny rebuild?
Oh, but let’s not overlook the obvious: The military didn’t want the vehicles because they aren’t real good off-road. Does the St. Cloud Police Department think they are going to drive their new 50,260-lb Caiman over local bridges and roads on their next rural police call?
But the tip of my “What the hell are you thinking?" hat goes to Ohio State University. The next time you have to deploy your security forces rapidly, keep in mind that the top speed of your new MaxxPro is 69 miles an hour—in a straight line. Try to take a 90-degree turn (you have a lot of those on your campus, I suspect) in your new, 13-foot, 3-inch truck, and you will probably have to deal with deflecting media attention when the 43,500-lb vehicle is photographed on its side, atop vehicles and / or students.
Bottom line here: Until people start detonating roadside bombs in the United States, there is very little use for MRAPs in police inventories. Sure, they look cool as hell—the macho factor is undeniable. But seriously, anyone who has asked a parent for a puppy knows, “Just because it is cheap to acquire, doesn’t mean it is cheap to keep.”
The silver lining in this debacle of surplus disposition? In about 10 years or so, when the police departments figure out they are paying a whole lot of money to upkeep vehicle that have very little practical value, they will get rid of their MRAPs. With any luck, collectors will finally get a chance to acquire, preserve and drive these trucks to honor the men and women who depended on them for their lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Keep em rolling,
Editor, Military Vehicles Magazine and Military Trader