A team of excellent USA Today reporters broke an important story this morning -- highly-survivable vehicles that could have saved the lives of hundreds of U.S. Marines and soldiers were requested much earlier than was previously publicly known.
Known as MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles), these vehicles, originally developed in southern Africa in the 1970s, thousands are being ordered and are the Pentagon's number one acquisition priority (last week we wrote on questions a Defense Department Inspector General audit raised about some of these contracts).
News accounts over the last two months have narrowed in on a Marine Corps Unmet Urgent Needs Request (UUNS) for 1169 MRAPs from February 2005 (pdf). However, USA Today found that MRAPs were being singled out as potential solutions to the problem of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as early as 2004:
•April 28-29, 2004: Duncan Lang, a Pentagon analyst who worked in acquisition and technology, suggested purchasing the Wer'Wolf, the MRAP put before the Joint Chiefs in December 2003. In an e-mail to colleagues and supervisors, Lang said "a number could be sent to Iraq "as quickly as, or even more quickly than, additional armored Humvees." He called it "frustrating to see the pictures of burning Humvees while knowing that there are other vehicles out there that would provide more protection."
•April 30, 2004: Another Pentagon analyst, Air Force Lt. Col. Bob Harris, forwarded details about MRAP options to a member of the IED task force. The list included a variety of MRAPs, among them the Wer'Wolf and Force Protection's Cougar. "There was no great clarity as to why they didn't pursue these options," Harris says. "I saw it as my job to educate." Harris is now an acquisition officer at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts.
A PowerPoint presentation, dated Aug. 25, 2004, shows wounded troops lying in hospital beds. Most are bandaged. One is bloody. His left eye is barely open, his injured right is covered by a patch. Each was maimed by an IED. Each, save one, was in a Humvee.
On another slide: "Numerous vehicles on the market provide far superior ballistic protection" than the Humvee, wrote then-lieutenant colonel Jim Hampton, the man who prepared the presentation for the operations staff of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Baghdad.
Safety is a passion for Hampton. He's so concerned with security that he asks his wife, Kate, to take her pistol when she goes for walks on their 80 acres in rural Mississippi. When he got to Iraq in early 2004, he was tasked with looking at armor options to protect the Corps of Engineers, the agency sent to help with rebuilding efforts. For weeks, he studied armor options. His conclusion: The corps should get MRAPs to protect its people, specifically Wer'Wolves. Hampton says he asked for 53 Wer'Wolves. The corps got four.
Tellingly, the U.S. was involved in procuring MRAPs for the Iraqi Army:
Even as the Pentagon balked at buying MRAPs for U.S. troops, USA TODAY found that the military pushed to buy them for a different fighting force: the Iraqi army.
On Dec. 22, 2004 — two weeks after President Bush told families of servicemembers that "we're doing everything we possibly can to protect your loved ones" — a U.S. Army general solicited ideas for an armored vehicle for the Iraqis. The Army had an "extreme interest" in getting troops better armor, then-brigadier general Roger Nadeau told a subordinate looking at foreign technology, in an e-mail obtained by USA TODAY.
In a follow-up message, Nadeau clarified his request: "What I failed to point out in my first message to you folks is that the US Govt is interested not for US use, but for possible use in fielding assets to the Iraqi military forces."
In response, Lt. Col. Clay Brown, based in Australia, sent information on two types of MRAPs manufactured overseas. "By all accounts, these are some of the best in the world," he wrote. "If I were fitting out the Iraqi Army, this is where I'd look (wish we had some!)" [emphasis POGO's]
The failure to procure MRAPs reflects not just the failure of rapidly acquiring needed and proven equipment in the middle of a war, but of anticipating threats that should be obvious in dealing with 4th generation warfare. Lt. Col. Roy McGriff III wrote a Marine Corps University paper [word doc] arguing that the USMC needs to acquire MRAPs:
According to the Marine Corps, the most likely threat STOM’s [Ship to Objective Manuever] vehicles will face, are a combination of mines and ambushes employed in offensive, unconventional mine warfare throughout the battlespace. Currently, STOM’s ground tactical vehicle fleet does not possess mine resistant armor protected (MRAP) vehicles. Incredibly, the bulk of STOM’s ground weapon platforms, sustainment, and transportation assets are not designed and built to survive their most likely enemy threat.
To date, the Department of Defense has never attempted to field a MRAP vehicle fleet. Instead, the U.S. has chosen to concentrate the bulk of its countermine efforts on “silver-bullet” technonologies: prediction, detection and neutralization, while virtually ignoring simple and robust survivability measures. Since WWII, this policy has cost the U.S. over 20 light infantry divisions’ worth of people and more than six armored divisions in tanks. Alarmingly, the percentage of mine casualties as a percentage of total combat losses has risen dramatically from less than 6 percent in WWII and Korea to 33 percent in Vietnam and stands at over 50 percent of the total casualties today in Iraq. The abrupt and sustained increase in mine casualties between Korea and Vietnam represents our adversary’s shift from conventional to unconventional mine warfare as they attempt to overcome our technological advantages. [emphasis POGO's]
-- Nick Schwellenbach