July 2007, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asked Congress
for approval to transfer nearly $1.2 billion to the Pentagon's
Mine Resistant Ambush Protected
(MRAP) program to procure an additional 2,650 vehicles.
SInce then, the program further evolved and is now about to
include some over 15,000 vehicles. With an estimated budget
of over $25 billion, MRAP is positioned to become the Defense
acquisition program, behind only the missile defense and
Joint Strike Fighter programs.
Is it the right choice? When will the money come from? What
will the military do with these vehicles as the current conflict
wind down? This article does not have the answers, but reading
through the lines, one realizes there are many open questions,
and only few answers. (more...)
MRAP and Beyond
MRAP and BeyondThere are basic elements linking key elements
in planning war machines – mobility, firepower and protection.
One does not go without the other. Through trial and error,
military designers learned to balance between the three, creating
highly effective, efficient machines that won the trust of the
soldiers while spreading fear and terror among their opponents.
However, sensitive and highly dangerous vulnerability gaps emerge
wherever this balance is tipped.
This, in a nutshell, is the motivation behind armoring a soldier
or a vehicle – applying sufficient armor for optimal protection,
without jeopardizing mobility, situational awareness and firepower.
As armor is always heavy, there will always be demand for better
protection 'somewhere', but maximizing protection under any
circumstances is the wrong approach- it has its price.
Asymmetric warfare that has emerged since the second half
of the 20th century, challenged the military to adapt doctrines
and means to fight a protracted war. In past conflicts, there
were clear definitions between 'front line' elements, which
were normally better protected, particularly in the frontal
area facing the enemy, while rear echelons, which were not armored
at all, since they rarely had to engage in severe fighting and
then, using only weapons for self defense. Modern asymmetrical
warfare has emphazised the fluid battlespace, and since insurgents
might appear everywhere, this type of warfare requires a different
approach to enhance survivability. Operation Iraqi Freedom highlights
this trend. During the first phase, US and coalition armies
used weapon systems designed for high intensity warfare, offering
mobility over any terrain with high level of protection and
strong firepower. Yet, the same units were also assigned for
the follow-on security and sustainment phase, which, initially
required only civic, logistical supply and support activities
using unarmored vehicles (like HMMWVs and trucks).
Unprotected vehicles rapidly became easy prey to irregular insurgent
ambush attacks first from firearms and later, improvised
explosive devices (IEDs). Every success boosted the insurgent's
moral, encouraging them to be more sophisticated and daring,
while the coalition troops turned defensive, applying makeshift
armor to the unprotected vehicles. At the beginning, the Coalition
deliberately tried to avoid throwing in their heavy armor, in
an attempt to de-escalate the situation and maintain 'low signature'
presence in the city streets. However, suffering mounting casualties,
the rag-tag makeshift armor had to be replaced by more standardized
up-armoring kits installed in-theater by the support teams or
back at the depots in Kuwait. The armor kits provided reasonable
protection against small arms but, as proven by the mounting
casualties, were totally inadequate against the growing IED
During this period the Army increased the procurement of ad-on
armor for HMMWVs, and purchased thousands of new armored
HMMWVs, installed protected
cabins for trucks, and bought over a hundreds of new Armored
Security Vehicles (ASV), for convoy escort security and
routine patrols. Other efforts were made to protect troops during
transit and transport, as well as at checkpoints and guard posts.
Armor improvements were provided to Bradley
tracked armored vehicles applying reactive
armor kits and counter IED appliqués, while slat
armor was installed on the Strykers to augment their protection
against deadly RPGs. Even the heavily armored Abrams tanks received
new armor upgrades, as part of the Tank
Urban Survival Kit (TUSK), enhancing their protection beyond
the frontal arc, into an all-round armor suit meeting various
threats encountered in typical urban