There’s a front page article in today’s USA Today about the Pentagon’s decision to convert to the MRAP, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, as a replacement for the Humvee. The MRAP, it is argued, “provide twice as much protection against improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which cause 70% of all U.S. casualties in Iraq.” The record of the MRAP with the Marine Corps in Iraq has thus far been fairly sound, although a couple of soldiers died in an IED attack in an MRAP two weeks ago.

Armchair Generalist isn’t so sure about the MRAP. The design in moving to production and deployment without sufficient testing, which could have negative consequences:

We’re talking about making a multi-billion dollar procurement deal on a system that hasn’t been run through any operational tests, to replace a system that cost about a fifth of the armored vehicle, and the military wants to rush production of “low rate initial production” vehicles through five contractors to meet the demand.

Now I know why the politicians will vote for this, because they’ve got a knee-jerk reaction to any issue that includes the term “protection from IEDs” in the title. But you have to ask, what the hell are the military leaders thinking by rushing these vehicles to the field? “These MVAPs have to work, because… because… if they don’t, it’s our asses.” There’s no excuse to short-cutting the operational testing of this vehicle, not when the consequences of failure are so high. My frustration with these kind of decisions is in part fueled by the continued demands by the military leadership to continue modernizing their aging equipment simultaneous with funding the high optempo requirements of the war, while the training and repair infrastructure in the United States continues to crumble.

The cost is certainly a concern. It’s easy to say “we’ll spend whatever we need to protect our troops”, but that obviously isn’t true, and every new expense takes away from something else. There’s also the problem of innovation. Insurgents in Iraq (and, really, everywhere else) have demonstrated a powerful capacity for tactical and technological innovation in the face of new threats. Indeed, a war characterized by small, atomistic, and often competing insurgent cells may be ideal for such innovation. Building a procurement program around a specific enemy weapon, and particularly an enemy weapon that’s susceptible to disguise and modification, is a recipe for disaster. It’s simply not the case that the new vehicles are going to stop IED attacks in Iraq; the MRAP may reduce casualties, but insurgents are going to come up with new methods of attack, and those attacks are going to destroy these extraordinarily expensive new vehicles. Thus, the futility of trying to fight a counter-insurgency conflict through reliance on hi-tech innovation.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

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