How the Army's New MRAPs Might Fare in the Field
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Nathan Hodge is a staff writer for Jane's Defence Weekly. He went to Michigan with Army Vice Chief of Staff General Richard Cody and got a good look at the MRAP.
Hodge found that the MRAP's strong and shock-absorbent body cocoons its occupants so they'll be protected from roadside blasts. He said that makes it well suited to missions like clearing routes for other vehicles and detonating mines. But Nathan Hodge also told me the vehicle's massive size presents logistical and tactical problems.
NATHAN HODGE: The big disadvantage and the one that the military is really wrestling with right now is these things are extremely heavy. So for instance, you can't sling load one from a helicopter. Now that doesn't sound...
NORRIS: Sling load, help me understand what you mean.
HODGE: Okay, basically you can't lift in from - with a helicopter. And that changes the way that you operate, you train and you fight. In other words, if you need a Humvee to tow a howitzer around the field and you don't have any more Humvees in your inventory, what are you going to do? How are you going to function?
Everything in the military is built around how are we going to transport it? Does it go on a C-130? Do we lift it on a Chinook helicopter? Does it go in a C-17? These vehicles are getting so big and so heavy that the military is really needing to rethink what they call the transportability piece. In other words, what are we going to do when we got a fleet of potentially thousands of these vehicles and we need to move them around the battlefield really quickly?
NORRIS: Nathan, it's curious, we're talking about a large military investment, billions of dollars, and at the same time in Washington, there is this standoff over the war funding bill, so the military is talking about spending billions of dollars while this debate is raging in Washington about just how long the troops are actually going to be in Iraq.
HODGE: Well, they basically say this is all driven by the requirements given to them by the commander in the field. And the argument is we need this now. We'll spend whatever it takes to get the added level of protection for our troops.
NORRIS: The insurgents or the extremists, whatever you might call them in Iraq, have proven to be very adaptable. How might they adapt their tactics so that this new class of vehicle is more vulnerable?
HODGE: Well, any vehicle like this, I think, is seen by insurgents as a trophy vehicle.
NORRIS: A challenge?
HODGE: It's basically something that can be attacked for propaganda purposes. In fact, they have succeeded in destroying the heaviest pieces of equipment in the U.S. inventory. They've successfully attacked Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, the Stryker armored vehicles. These attacks were often filmed and they're exploited for maximum propaganda value.
And I think the MRAP is also seen as something that could be targeted, see, we can defeat your, you know, supposedly roadside bomb-proof vehicle. It's all basically part of their form of psychological warfare.
NORRIS: And how - beyond the, sort of, symbolic value of this in the battlefield on a day-to-day basis, what would the enemy need to do to exploit the weakness or their vulnerability or change their tactics so that the U.S. military lost a bit of its advantage in using this new vehicle?
HODGE: Well, I think that one of the interesting paradox is if you look at this counter-insurgency field manual that was developed under the guidance of General Petraeus, who's now the top commander in Iraq, one of the axioms of that doctrine is the more you protect your force, the less protected you are.
Now that sort of sounds like this weird kind of Zen Koan sort of thing. But really what they're trying to say is the more aggressive some of the tactics that you take for your own protection, the more difficult it becomes to win, for instance, hearts and minds. However, while you succeed in protecting yourself, whether it's by cocooning yourself in this kind of vehicle, whether it's by detecting these IED networks, identifying people while they're emplacing them, the number of mines being laid still keeps going up.
So it's really kind of what they call measure, counter-measure, counter-counter-measure. It's something that's kind of an endless loop. Remember, at the beginning of the war that there is - most of these things were command detonated by wire. Well, then they went to triggering them with pagers, cell phones, even garage door openers.
So the Pentagon spent a whole lot of money on things like jammers, basically, that would block the radio signal. So then you go back to your hardwired IED or you trip it a different way. So, you know, there's, kind of, this endless cat-and-mouse game going on of which this armored or up-armored vehicle is only a part.
NORRIS: Nathan Hodge, thank you so much for coming in to talk to us.
HODGE: Thank you.
NORRIS: That was Nathan Hodge. He's a staff writer for Jane's Defence Weekly.
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