Tuesday, January 22, 2008

MRAPs & Casualties

A few months ago I spent a lot of time tracking the development of the Army's mine resistant armor protected (MRAPs) vehicles as the Pentagon began awarding what would turn out to be billions of dollars in contracts to companies like Oshkosh Truck to build what were seen by many to be the solution to the IED problem in Iraq.

But anyone who followed the discussion closely knows that this was hardly the consensus. There was considerable debate about the effectiveness of the program. Some were critical of the bulky size of the trucks, others were concerned about the "fortress mentality" that MRAPs seemed to project to Iraqis. Of notable interest was the cost and their shelf-life. One general even suggested that putting MRAPs into the field was tantamount to an open invitation to the enemy to attack them. Unfortunately, this debate did not seem to break out of defense appropriations circles until after the contracts were awarded.

Instead a number of people in Washington, on both sides of the aisle, used "We must support the troops!" rhetoric to gain support for the massive spending measures without ever asking if this was a good way of supporting the troops. Up until the contracts were awarded MRAPs had enjoyed vocal support from soldiers on the ground who has survived roadside attacks and ambushes. Many even suggested that the trucks were more important than ever due to the development and use of EFPs in the battlefield.

I haven't blogged about MRAPs in a while, largely because the direction their news has taken has become far more technical than I think anyone but me would care to bother with, but I have been keeping up with their use and deployment. Unfortunately, it became painfully obvious even well before the deployment that MRAPs were not going to be the panacea that many suggested they could be.

Now, for the first time since the awarding of the contracts last fall, a soldier has been killed by a roadside ambush while serving inside an MRAP.

The implications are really rather staggering. The Pentagon put a lot of their eggs into the MRAP basket. If anything, the MRAP was successful in providing soldiers with tremendous piece of mind -- one has to wonder if that will still be the case.

I'm sure there will be plenty more to say on this topic soon enough.

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