August 2, 2012

The MRAP Boondoggle

"But data from the battlefield does not support the claims that MRAPs are highly effective in decreasing the number of U.S. causalities. We recently conducted a study using For Official Use Only (FOUO) Pentagon data, which the Defense Department provided in response to a research request. We found that, relative to light and unprotected tactical wheeled vehicles, those with "medium" amounts of armor plating and mine protection were highly effective at reducing the fatalities in units exposed to heavy combat. For infantry units, one life was saved for every seven medium vehicles purchased, at a total cost of around $1 million to $2 million per life saved. However, tactical wheeled vehicles with "heavy" amounts of protection, such as the MRAP (which has higher quality armor and a V-shaped hull designed to improve resistance to IEDs), did not save more lives than medium armored vehicles did, despite their cost of $600,000 apiece -- roughly three times as much as the medium-protected vehicles."

Comment: In 2007, I co-authored a paper with Dr. Andrew Krepinevich on the MRAP and IED problem. We found that in contrast to the hyperventilating rhetoric emanating from Capital Hill, U.S. casualty rates were actually at historic lows: 0.25% of the committed force in comparison to 3x that number in Vietnam and 10x higher in both WWI and WWII. Further, it was not clear at all that such massive vehicles would actually improve the ability of forces to accomplish the mission for which they were deployed in the first place. Rather, sensitivity to casualty levels is more a function of the public's perception of the rightness of the war and whether it is being handled competently by national and military leaders. Any casualty in war is a tragedy. The greater tragedy, however, is unnecessarily placing troops in harm's way or hobbling their effort through well meant but shortsighted policy decisions. Rohlfs and Sullivan appear to raise valid concerns about continued military purchases of these vehicles.

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