Foreign Policy Blogs

The Real MRAP Controversy


Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles are a family of armored fighting vehicles designed to survive IED attacks and ambushes in Iraq and Afghanistan. In an article called “Hopes for Vehicle Questioned After Iraq Blast,” the New York Times described the first loss of a soldier in a MRAP. However, this soldier was a turret gunner and was mostly outside of the vehicle when the explosion hit it. Did he die of fragmentation or did the vehicle roll over on him? The cause of death isn't clear. The other three soldiers actually inside the vehicle survived with minor injuries. An obvious conclusion would be that the vehicle's skin saved them and that MRAPs work. Until we learn the cause of death of the turret gunner and where exactly the IED went off in relation to the vehicle, we can't make a completely accurate assessment of the survivability of the MRAP in real combat conditions and not a controlled environment like in Army tests.

The MRAP is not without other problems as one critic notes: it's big and heavy, which limits its mobility, especially in urban terrain, and it can't be towed by a similiar vehicle. It's height is also a liability in urban terrain as it becomes an easy target for armor hunting insurgents. Speed and mobility is being traded for brute force protection. The problem is that if you have the speed you probably don't need the protection, but if you are slow and heavy, you better have all the protection you need. There is a Navy saying that “Speed is life,” which may be applicable to the MRAP.

All of this leads to questions about the effectiveness of the MRAP, but even if it performs as advertised it still is just a tactical solution to a strategic problem. It is a tactical question to ask, can a MRAP survive an IED hit, but a better, more strategic question is, why are Iraqis planting IEDs to hit MRAPs? The MRAP is merely a stopgap measure to lower the body count of American dead and pre-empt the American people from asking that strategic question.



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