Small Wars Journal

Deconstructing the Pentagon Establishment's Opposition to MRAPs

Mon, 07/23/2012 - 5:08am

“Back at Quantico, [LtCol] Wyly was beginning to realize that his radical ideas on [Maneuver Warfare] were unpopular with the new director of the [Amphibious Warfare School].  Wyly was not invited to meetings he should have attended.  Numerous officers snubbed him.  On February 25, 1982…Wyly came to work and was told he had been fired as head of Tactics…. He returned from one trip to find his office had been ransacked and his personal mail opened, the latter a federal offense….  A Marine officer fired from his job is considered wounded.  He is prey for all predators.

--Robert Coram on LtCol Mike Wyly, Boyd, 2004. 

Part III: Deconstructing Pentagon Establishment Opposition to MRAPs.

As stated in Part I of this series, my experience in a key role initiating MRAPs in 2006 (along with several other devices of counter insurgency warfare) suggests that little has changed since Col. Burton described the Pentagon Establishment as morally and ethically corrupt in 1993.  My experiences between 2006 and 2010 in advocating a disciplined, transparent, rapid technology initiation process, and application of maneuver warfare principles to the support establishment also suggest integrity is lacking in the military portion of the industrial complex.  Five internal audits from 2007 to 2011 form a serious indictment.  The attempt to end GS-15 Franz Gayl’s career by removing his security clearance and spinning his performance as sub-standard underscores that the Pentagon Establishment is plagued with hubris and an inability to get beyond the siloed technology high-priests and their hyper-complex, hyper-expensive toolset approach to warfare.  They are unable to overcome their “not invented here” mentality without extraordinary intervention.

In this article, the Pentagon Establishment’s rationale for opposing MRAPs in 2005, 2006, and even into 2007 will be explained. Anti-MRAP excuses will be deconstructed, with support of the judgments of the DoD Inspector General MRAP audit of December 2008 and the judgments of the MRAP Case Study from the Science Advisor to the Deputy Commandant for Plans, Policy & Operations at Headquarters Marine Corps (January 2008).

Pentagon Establishment Rationale for Opposing MRAPs

The Pentagon Establishment used four primary arguments against MRAPs in 2006: 

1) MRAPs are too expensive. 

2) There was no industry capacity. 

3) The enemy will just build a bigger bomb. 

4) MRAPs do not integrate with all our other toolsets. 

Other arguments swirled around as the Pentagon Establishment turned on their smokescreens and legacy thinkers wrote with a kind of ungrounded confidence that often accompanies issues of technology, but these four arguments were the primary lines of thinking that were overcome in 2006-2007.

All four of these arguments fit the “musclebound” description of the Pentagon that James Fallows made famous in the early 1980’s.  In my view, these excuses go beyond bad logic for toolset selection: they were specifically designed to protect the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program and they were a manifestation of the “not invented here” hubris of the Establishment.  New programs like MRAPs do not have headwinds magically.  People in permanent positions (often GS-15s and colonels hoping to retire and keep the same job) in the Pentagon Establishment deliberately create those headwinds, using bureaucratic protections such as the “program of record” to torpedo competing ideas. 

One gentleman at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC) in 2009 explained, “the program of record is designed to be protected from all attacks, even from Congress.”  I responded, “And that’s how you lose wars.  Thankfully, Mr. Gates has already decided the issue—toolsets for the wars are being prioritized over Programs of Record.” 

The Pentagon Establishment is habituated to buying whatever they want under any time frame that is convenient to them.  These four excuses are the result of what Col Burton termed “incestuous” Pentagon Establishment thinking, and they were uncovered by today’s loose band of reformers.  As described in The Fourth Star, this is why General Galvin encouraged a young David Petraeus to get a Ph.D., and why Gen Petraeus, in turn, valued his Ph.D. “brain trust” so much.  In many ways, they had trained themselves to think outside the box.

These four Pentagon Establishment excuses for blocking MRAPs are still repeated by the same people who are proven to not be up to the task of military technology requirements definition if the situation requires an idea cycle time that is less than 10 years.  I would suggest that these excuses are intended to protect individuals from embarrassment and to shield personal careers. The Pentagon Establishment’s goal over the past several years is obvious to me: marginalize or end the careers of critics—reformers like Mr. Gayl—and repeat these four arguments or their sequels until they are accepted as conventional wisdom. 

Deconstruction of Pentagon Establishment Anti-MRAP Logic

Each of the four anti-MRAP arguments listed above will be addressed in this section.

Rather than focusing on warfighter needs, cost of MRAPs was typically the very first reason the Pentagon Establishment gave as to why we should not buy MRAPs.  “Cost” always referred to sticker price “direct” costs.  Indirect cost-drivers associated with the vehicle choices of the Pentagon Establishment were never mentioned: the cost of casualties, the cost to replace injured or killed service members, the operational and maintenance costs of overloaded HMMWVs, the strategic costs associated with the risk of losing the war all weighed heavily in the MRAP’s favor as the inexpensive solution.  Logic supporting MRAPs in Ship-to-Objective maneuver had been around since LtCol McGriff’s 2004 brilliant MRAP thesis at the School of Advanced Warfighting and it addressed most of the correct cost drivers.

There’s no way vehicle sticker price could be pitted against the cost borne by the taxpayers of all the lives being lost on the battlefield, let alone the cost via the VA Hospital system for those who survived landmine attacks.  Once MRAPs became a moral imperative, the Pentagon Establishment’s story changed.  Repeating a standard retroactive reinterpretation of the Establishment, one senior leader flatly denied in 2007 that cost was a reason we did not buy MRAPs in 2005.  But throughout 2006 the first words out of everyone’s mouth in the Pentagon Establishment middle management was concern about the cost of MRAPs.  It was the middle-managers in the Pentagon Establishment who never got the MRAP requirement to senior USMC General Officers for typical requirements review.

The numbers were always some version of $150K per HMMWV v. $600K per MRAP.  Even today, the cost issue survives: list price comparisons are presented as furrowed-brow, thoughtful military thinking, hoping that no one will notice that their approach to cost analysis (what the business schools call “management accounting”) has literally not been in use since Richard Nixon was President.  The Pentagon Establishment never once expressed concern about the cost of casualties, or the real cost-of-ownership of HMMWVs, or strategic costs of losing the war, or the cost of MRAPs relative to the monthly cost of the war. 

In all these years of list-price demagoguery one wonders if the Pentagon’s Operations Research/Industrial Engineering cost analysts have ever studied MRAPs from a cost perspective.  Certainly the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment did not understand the problem at all in Oct 2007, when they published an MRAP study that glossed over the most important MRAP arguments, and tried to encourage us to consider just taking more casualties.  Revealing what he really thought in Dec 2007, CSBA’s president criticized MRAPs as antithetical to COIN warfare despite General Petraeus using them in 2007, and thanking Congress for them in Sep 2007.  In the following years, almost all other COIN commanders embraced them and Gen Petraeus personally thanked Mr. Gates for MRAPs in his retirement letter of June 2011.  For some reason, that remains a mystery to some COIN theorists.  MRAPs and “Don’t commute to work” are not antithetical concepts.  This leads us with a rhetorical question: How did Mr. Gates have more insight on COIN technologies like MRAPs than COIN expert Andrew Krepinevich?  In Dr. Cohen’s book, Supreme Command, we see this dynamic repeated with supreme commanders in previous eras.  In 2008 I met a Pentagon OR/IE analyst while we were both transiting through Kuwait and struck up an MRAP conversation.  He repeated the list-price arguments and I repeated the arguments above.  He looked at his boots.

Secondly, it was obvious very early in 2006 that the “industry capacity” argument was just a cynical game the Pentagon Establishment was playing: they never let the Feb 2005 MRAP requirement progress get to the point of asking Congress for money because they knew Congress would support it.  They kept issuing sole-source, low-volume, small-quantity contracts to a company without much experience in building vehicles, and then at least one leader acted surprised in Congressional testimony that the company’s assembly line had a low-volume capability, as if he did not know that when Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) bought a low-volume industry capacity that is what it would get.

Everyone who knows anything about business knows that industry capacity immediately follows appropriations and contracts (for mature technologies like trucks), and they know that American industry can rapidly maneuver.  Certainly, they know the United States of America knows how to build trucks.  They know that no defense manufacturer will ever build a high-capacity MRAP assembly line for free, or a bunch of MRAPs in the hope that someone will buy them.  Perhaps that is why Congressman Taylor described the whole MRAP situation as the fourth verse in a really stupid song (19 July 2007 House Armed Services Committee Hearing).  The Pentagon Establishment knows rapid creation of industry capacity has been entirely possible since Henry Ford and the assembly line, as was proven 70 years ago in WWII.  That is why it was obvious in 2006 that they did not want MRAPs competing with their pre-war Programs of Record.  Our choices for a description of the conduct of the middle managers in the Pentagon Establishment are either near-total lack of understanding of innovation, or perniciousness.

Thirdly, people in the Pentagon Establishment often told me in 2006 that we should not buy MRAPs because the enemy would just build a bigger bomb.  Yet, one of the goals of the MRAP program was to force the enemy to build a bigger bomb just like we take other actions on the battlefield to channelize the enemy into an untenable position.  The Establishment used arguments that presumed MRAPs had to work perfectly against a bomb of any size even as they audaciously suggested, in several meetings in 2006, that MRAP requirements could be rolled into the JLTV to be delivered six years later, in 2012.  They wanted to set the bar so high we would not buy MRAPs.  Imagine, suggesting an urgent requirement could be delivered six years later!

But we were confident (in 2006) that MRAPs would decrease casualties, a level of confidence that has been supported by actual battlefield results year after year after year.  A Sep 2010 article showed that they are highly effective even in Afghanistan many years after we initiated them. MRAPs had a 15% casualty rate, HMMWVs had an 80% casualty rate over an 18-month period, Jan 09 – Jul 10.

As was stated in the DoD Inspector General MRAP audit, we used MRAPs and ubiquitous cameras (Intelligence, Surveillance Reconnaissance, or ISR tools) “to disrupt insurgent activities in the emplacement and employment of improvised explosive devices,” (page 25).  Major General Lynch USA summarized a portion of this concept in a USA Today article that talked about MRAPs, “Sons of Iraq”, and ISR as keys to an almost 90% decrease in casualties: “If they're out there planting an IED, we can go whack them before they finish," he said. The former made the latter a more effective tool. 

As the DoD Inspector General MRAP audit relates, “As a part of a combined arms strategy to defeat IEDs, the Marine Corps also fielded frequency jammers, the Mine Roller System, and the Ground-based Operational Surveillance System (G-BOSS),” (page 7).  In 2006 and 2007 these dynamics  were explained and briefed dozens of times to officers within U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).  The synergies between these toolsets and their associated tactics, how they were fit together as combined arms in the counter-landmine continuum, was also explained. 

Finally, in 2006 those who actually initiated MRAPs did not care if MRAPs integrated into the broader inventory of toolsets, processes and procedures, or not.  It did not matter: winning the war more quickly was better and cheaper than losing the war.  When the Pentagon Establishment expressed concern for what we would do with MRAPs after the war, I would tell them, “Store them at Barstow, give them to the Army, put them in a cave in Kentucky, clean them up and sink them next to WWII Aircraft Carriers, give them to the Iraqi Army.”  It did not matter what we did with MRAPs after the war. When I told them this, they often looked at me blankly and continued worrying about the money.  No wonder Mr. Gates found the Pentagon “not on a wartime footing.”


Every argument against MRAPs given in all my conversations with people in the Pentagon Establishment in 2006 and 2007 turned out to be incorrect.  Thankfully, disruptive technologists in these proceedings had been trained in applying Boydian tactics to the support establishment as well as to the battlefield.  By personal observation it was clear that if the Establishment middle management could have figured out how to block MRAPs again in 2006 as they had in 2005, they would have done so.  Nothing reveals the Musclebound Pentagon Establishment more than their handling of MRAPs.

The rationale as stated by people in the Pentagon Establishment in 2006 has been reprised and debunked in this essay.  However, an experienced change agent is taught to spot the hidden internal agendas.  In this case it became clear that these arguments were mere pointers toward the real reasons: Hubris and Habit.

A story from LtGen Chesty Puller is instructive.  In the book Marine, Gen Puller had just been promoted to Brigadier General and a case was brought to him.  After the Inchon landing and combat in Seoul, two Marines had flagged down an Army Military Police (MP) jeep and asked for a ride.  The MPs declined to take the infantrymen with them, and evidently one of the Marines shot “at” the MPs as they drove away, whereupon the MPs turned around and arrested the two Marines.  Gen Puller’s opinion?  They could not have been shooting at the MPs, because combat Marines hit their targets. Because the MPs were not hit, the Marines must not have been shooting at them.

This rather humorous story, in a nutshell, describes the Pentagon Establishment and MRAPs.  They did not buy MRAPs in 2005 because they did not want them, plain and simple. If they wanted them quickly, they would have bought them quickly.  They bought them slowly in 2005 and 2006 without contingency plan for rapidly increasing production, evidence that they wanted to buy them slowly.  Their habit was to ignore suggestions from the operating forces, and their hubris in spiking MRAPs and attempting to spike other requirements in 2005 and 2006 was business as usual.  They forced us to re-purchase the 30-year-old lessons of the South Africans with our own casualties.  That is 18-24 months of casualties that suggest we need to be honest with ourselves about our lack of technological foresight.  When 3M Corporation middle-management blocks Post-It Notes, the stockholders and employees have less revenue.  When the Integrated Steel Mills ignore mini-mill technology, they lose money.  When our Establishment repeatedly chooses not to support the warfighter in a real war, something altogether more serious results.  And that is why some in the Pentagon Establishment act as if excoriating audits never happened, and why they have been willing to go to great lengths to shout down Mr. Gayl’s truth-telling with specious claims that he used a thumb drive, or that his performance as the civilian equivalent of a colonel magically deteriorated when he began informing Congress of what was really going on in the Pentagon Establishment.

About the Author(s)

Thaddeus L. Jankowski is a colonel in the United States Marine Corps, Reserve, and an Infantry Officer.  He has been mobilized three times and deployed twice, spending 4 of the past 10 years on active duty.  In his civilian career he is a technology consultant at a variety of large corporations.  He has a Master of Science in Management of Technology (MS-MOT) from the University of Minnesota’s Technology Leadership Institute.  His undergraduate degree is from Wheaton College (IL), where he majored in Mathematics and Philosophy.  The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Marine Corps, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


Move Forward,

Thanks for sticking with it, and for your service as well. I agree with several of your arguments. Several others are true but not applicable in 2006-2007, when a rapid change of course was necessary. I suppose I still disagree with you in some of your comments, but no use going over it again. I agree a better plan in 2003 would have been best and would have avoided many costly expenses later. I think I mentioned that in my first article. The manned gunner was intentional, the operating forces wanted a person up there. Sniper protection was later, but we had little artillery threat: The feeling at the time was 80% now was better than a 100% solution later. The JLTV designs were all too light to be useful in the IED fight, and no, we never considered sling-loading an MRAP under a helo.

More helos would have been great to get off the roads, but that solution was available perpetually and not chosen. I don't know why, I could only speculate caps on troop levels. I co-authored an unmanned helo requirement and described how it could be used in lieu of vehicles--if the technology was ready. It was not. I personally preferred expanding normal helos but did not have a vote in that one. As you stated, UAS was very helpful.


Thu, 07/26/2012 - 8:31pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Col Jankowski and Move Forward,
Thank you both for this informative dialog, it has answered many of my questions. I am very concerned, and somewhat disappointed, that very little was learned from the MRAP JUONS event of 2006. This blog proves that point. The supporting establishment seems to use the same old methods for requirements generation that it used in the 1970s. The material solutions used to fulfill those requirements are heavily dependent on vendor input, the whole process is less than transparent I might add. I would like to see a more rigorous process like Modeling and Simulation (M&S) used to help validate requirements as they are generated. I would also like to see a rigorous process like M&S used to help validate the material solution to those requirements before they are fielded. In short I am asking for the supporting establishment to use more modern and scientific processes with regard to technology and innovation. Without that we will be here again rehashing the same old arguments after enormous amounts of money have been spent that only sort of meet the requirement. It’s not just money we are jeopardizing but the lives of our personnel and the security of our nation.

Move Forward

Wed, 07/25/2012 - 7:40pm

TJ and Pete,

The new Joint Force Quarterly has an article comparing air and ground war costs. Never mind that every war is unique and that enemies rapidly learn to keep military gear hidden from the air on complex terrain, in tunnels, buried, and hugging civilians. When you spend $50 billion on MRAP and then must turn around and expend as much or more on JLTV because you didn’t get it right the first time, Congress and DoD start to believe the hype that air wars are cheaper and just as effective.

Then add Navy/USAF inclination to have less than adequate air and sealift in their budgets to fund their own priorities, and soon AirSea Battle becomes the only realistic game in town. Already, we face the prospects of C-17s expending a hefty portion of their useful life performing missions like MRAP-transport. What happens when we really need those airlift hours rapidly for larger conflicts a few decades from now?

Speaking of C-17s, we erroneously tend to view past acquisition with rose-colored glasses. For instance, initially the C-17 was extremely troubled, along with many other now fabled 70-80s systems. The air reformer crowd that loved the F-16 and A-10, despised the F-15 which turned out to be an undefeated fighter with ground, as well as air applications. C-17s cost so much that initial plans were to build just 120, which would have left us in a world of hurt had that plan panned out. Say what you will about the Military-Industrial-Congressional complex. Sometimes Congress helps the USAF and Navy guess “righter.”

However, scarce dollars for peacetime acquisition systems such as the C-17 differ from war time acquisition. The latter includes overseas contingency operation (OCO) monies that seem to toss normal budget constraints out the window.…

Note how OCO allows Congress and DoD to endorse easy yet costly solutions like initial MRAP purchases. Inevitably, someone wakes up to the cost and tries to turn the compromise into the final solution even if it does not optimally support warfighters. The JLTV program nearly became such a victim of seemingly similar-but-no-cigar needs. Now, it appears despite protests, delays, changing requirements, and nearly going unfunded, there will be a JLTV down-selection this summer.

Thankfully, Marines pushed the need for a lighter JLTV, and costs also were reduced. Life cycle cost and peacetime fuel and parts/tire consumption drove the need for armor to be added in time of war. Also, permanent armor would have led to behemoths that could not deploy fast. In war, an overly large JLTV would complicate resupply, especially against more capable threats able to cut off supplies through A2/AD strategies.

When you hurry acquisition, it resembles that old saying:
1)You can have it good and fast, but it won’t be cheap.
2)You can have it good and cheap, but it won’t be made fast.
3)You can have it fast and cheap, but it won’t be good.

MRAP is sort of like number one, but actually is more like “You can have it fast, but it won’t be good or cheap.” With the exception of M-ATV and a few others, it won’t add value for many other uses, and was only affordable due to OCO funds and deficit spending. The current acquisition system resembles number two, and some of that could be solved by streamlining Congressionally and DoD mandated oversight processes that needlessly add time/expense. The third example of the old saying represents many WWII weapons like our Sherman tanks and initial aircraft models. It wasn’t until after lessons were learned, tanks got bigger guns and more armor, and aircraft evolved (even the P-51) that the best products resulted.

That also was an existential war. In peacetime, and with increasingly complex and costly systems, you can expect to retain the same weapons for many decades. They better be great upfront and able to evolve to retain effectiveness all the way through the end of their fielded lives.

<i>1. Saving four months off the war pays for the MRAPs.</i> Going into OIF with a plan and sufficient troops for stability operations and wide area security would have ended it much sooner. The COP strategy, surges, and Anbar Awakening ended OIF faster than MRAPs. The Iraq War emphasis (which one could argue never should have occurred) removed troop and equipment priority from OEF and prolonged that war to the point that the Taliban finally figured out IEDs.

<i>2. multiple HMMWVs operational wear and tear to equal the lifecycle of an MRAP.</i> With JLTV replacing HMMWV, there would not have been multiple generations of worn out HMMWVs to exceed the life-cycle cost of MRAP. With JLTV just around the corner designed to accept heavier armor, its life cycle cost will be far less than MRAP. But because we bought so many MRAP types since each individual manufacturer could only produce so many in a hurry, we spent billions before recognizing that some variants were better. We learned that a M-ATV (similar to already planned JLTV) was the best option and that trucks like 7 tons could be modified to become just like MRAPs…except they can go off-road.

<i>3. Saving the win keeps our enemies from being emboldened, thus paying for the urgent needs. Did any of you ever calculate the cost of losing the Vietnam War? How many countries fell to communism in the 1970s, and how expensive was that to counter in the Cold War? You have to go all-in when you fight a war. B29s were worthless within five years of the end of WWII, but that was not a reason to not build them for use in 1944/5.</i> Cambodia and Laos, in addition to South Vietnam are the sole communist additions of record circa 1975. These nonentities had nothing to do with the larger Cold War threat of war in Europe and a potential nuclear exchange. Even China was not much of a threat back then.

According to this article, both the B-26 and B-29 were used in the Korean War, over a decade after their 1942 introduction. Not so worthless after all apparently, and those are combat aircraft that inherently are subject to rapid obsolescence vs ground vehicles.…

Going all-in during the Cold War under the old acquisition system was what won it. But that kind of money (600 ship Navy!) would never be spent on acquisition today during a peacetime “Chilly” War with China because the cost of necessarily more complex systems (stealth and sensors), troops, their benefits, and medical care is so much higher (see earlier Battleland link), entitlement costs are so much higher, and taxes paid are so much lower.

At the time of Ike’s speech, the top tax rate was 91%. When Reagan first took office, it was in the 70% range. There is a major difference between going all-in tax and GDP-wise, and as a whole nation sacrificing against an existential WWII threat versus minor world players like Iraq and Afghanistan. Note this DoDBuzz article’s sarcasm in decimating a recent OpEd piece.…

<i>4. You forgot about how expensive TBIs are going to be. Why don't you argue for HMMWVs on a cost basis because deceased servicemen and -women are cheaper than those who survive with tramatic brain injuries?</i> Exposed gunners allowing blast effects mean the MRAP was inadequately planned due to a hurry-up requirements and fielding process. Would your combat vehicle be unbuttoned against artillery air-bursts? A remotely operated gun similar to a Stryker would have been superior but that would have meant spending more and incurring delays…yet by your own arguments would have precluded MRAP TBI injuries that still will cost the billions you thought you saved by saving lives/limbs.

<i>5. I say again: I don't care that MRAPs don't fit permanent organizations. They were never intended for that. Heh, Nation Building, low intensity conflict, COIN are more likely than state-on-state conflict, so we might want to keep a few MRAPs in storage. Otherwise, melt them down and make a ship.</i>Then buy fewer than 27,000 and don’t assume that every unit needs their own and can’t share. Use fewer MRAPs with rollers to lead lesser armored vehicles, while jamming and cutting command det lines for non-victim operated IEDs. Block culverts and put sensors in them. Use monies saved to find IEDs left of boom by attacking the network and through change detection.

<i>6. Industry capacity is instant for existing technologies.</i>Likewise for procuring more UAS to detect IEDs or building modernized lift aircraft faster. Perhaps we shift to more Combat Aviation Brigades and rely less on deadly ground transport by road-restricted trucks. MRAPs don’t swim well or fit on LCACs in numbers exceeding two. Don’t we need to perform more air assaults to combat some of these threat A2/AD strategies? More friendly troops could reach South China Sea islands, Taiwan, or southwest Iran well before threats arrived at LZs. A CH-53K could move a JLTV…an MRAP is unlikely.

<i>7. If the enemy could easily kill us in HMMWVs, what do you think they would have done? They would have poured more resources into that effort.</i>Or the threat would have expanded EFP attacks in which 5% of attacks were responsible for 35% of US casualties. Or commanders would have reacted by parking their HMMWVs in defensible COP BPs to exploit their armor and crew-served weapons. Larger armored trucks carrying supplies with route clearance packages would have kept these COPs supplied. More foot patrols would have resulted getting troops out of armored cocoons to interact with the population. Less fuel consumption would have saved logistician lives and reduced war costs.

What is your solution to IEDs killing/maiming dismounts? Some problems are too complex for hurry-up solutions. What about all the OH-58D pilots who must risk flying their machines at high altitude because the DoD can’t find the smaller pot of money to replace them.

<i>8. By forcing them to build a bigger bomb--sometimes much bigger and still they often did not kill us--what happened?</i>Agree, that there is much more required to plant a 500-1000 lb bomb than a 50-100 lb bomb. But in Afghanistan, the Taliban have shifted to the latter to blow up dismounted troops. Where is your outrage and simple solution that the Pentagon Establishment just won’t accept?

OK, maybe that is slightly unfair. The point is, not every solution is simple, and there are many alternatives to analyze, no matter the solution COAs. Even the simplest things about war are complex. Thank-you and Pete (1920s USMC spy?) for your service, military or civilian, and all the others troops who have been asked to purposely drive and walk through minefields.


Wed, 07/25/2012 - 4:45pm

Move Forward,
I was surprised by your statement “Today’s UAS have even better tools to discern change.” Did you know that the original Ground-Based Operational Surveillance System (G-BOSS) plans called for its towers to work in conjunction with multiple unmanned aerial vehicles for increased observation of the area around any Combat OutPost (COP) that they were deployed in? In addition to that the towers of the G-BOSS system were to have an RF based data network so that powerful Support Vector Machines located in a Forward Observation Base (FOB) could receive and analyze video data from the towers and UAS to discern IED burial patterns. The towers and UAS would have been a very useful combination that would have helped alert Marines to any attempt at burying IEDs in their area. Alas, the UAS and RF based data network were cut from the deployment of the G-BOSS package by the same supporting establishment that also denied the MRAP to the Marines in Iraq in 2006. The point I am making is that the people who came up with the MRAP requirement in Iraq in 2006 tried to use technology to address the IED threat from as many different angles as they could. The only counter IED technologies that seemed to have survived scrutiny by the supporting establishment were the MRAP and part of the G-BOSS requirements.


Tue, 07/24/2012 - 9:06am

Alas the story of the MRAP is painfully replicated here in the UK, with a clear, official reluctance to acquire and deploy suitable vehicles in both Iraq and Afghanistan - in particular the later. It is worth reading the opinionated blogsite

I recall a respected TV journalist, Sean Langen, who was embedded with ISAF in Helmand, who asked why the Estonian infantry unit had suitable vehicles and the massively larger UK did not.

As SWC have debated before it still strikes a civilian observer that for years officials failed to learn from previous COIN campaigns, in particular the Rhodesian experience and the South African developments. I realise there were voices raised, some loudly asking why.

In my opinion we paid too high a price. Nor have any "heads rolled", instead those who asked why, paid or nearly paid.

Great article.

Isn't MRAP just a symptom of bigger Puzzle Palace Establishment problems? Flag O's "me too" mentality (inserting conventional forces after 24/7 air enabled special ops to topple Afghanistan in weeks) created needless jeopardy. If you find yourself needing MRAPs, perhaps you have bigger problems.

Where will we get such men?

Robert C. Jones

Fri, 07/27/2012 - 4:55am

In reply to by TJ

You both make excellent points, but is it the right argument?

There were tactical solutions to the IED problem. A much smaller force not wed to large, slow moving convoys along major, predictiable routes, for example. But it is a lot easier for DoD to drop $50B on a piece of otherwise useless kit to support the tactic we have than it is to devise and employ a more effective tactic or way of thinking about the role of the military in an insurgency.

There were strategic solutions. Why even stay in Iraq or Afghanistan either one to force some particular form of governance onto those populaces? We struggle to find effective metrics to measure our tactical successes in "defeating" (in quotes becuase our COIN doctrine is really more about suppressing insurgency than it is about resolving it, and revolutionary insurgency cannot be "defeated" in the classic sense of warfare) some insurgency, yet the very existance of an insurgency is an unarguable metric that the form of governance one is promoting is deemed inappropriate by a significant portion of the populace one is attempting to "help."

MRAPs work against most IEDs. Lives were saved. MRAPs are expensive and because they are expensive we will likely use them in the future as armored fighting vehicles and perhaps even more lives will be lost. I heard that we "sold" our uparmored HMMWVs to the Iraqis for $500 a pop. We might want to trade them MRAPs and take the HMMWVs home. I also see we are shipping MRAPs to South Korea...

We love arguing tactics and technical issues, but we avoid confronting the demons of our strategic failures, our policy failures and our failure to understand the problems we face outside the constricting context of missions we have been tasked to perform. I shouldn't care about that, but I do.


Wed, 07/25/2012 - 2:58pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward,

Thanks for commenting. I bet the 3M vice president of manufacturing--the guy who blocked post-it notes for a long time--sounded something like you did. This sort of thinking would have worked under Mr. Rumsfeld, but it would not have worked under Mr. Gates or Mr. John Young. I'd like to see you tell Mr. Gates that the extra gas mattered relative to winning the war or avoiding casualties. I'd really like to see you tell Gene Taylor that in Congressional Testimony.

I really need only one argument for you: "Thousands and Thousands of lives saved, and multiples of that in terms of limbs."

You threw a lot of bogies into the air, I don't have time to address them all. But let's go through a few points in response, and then I have a question for you.

1. Saving four months off the war pays for the MRAPs.

2. When I wrote that it would take multiple HMMWVs just in operational wear and tear to equal the lifecycle of an MRAP, thus paying for the MRAPs, it was not a guess: In 2006 I walked down to the G4 logistics shop and checked the actual (unclassified) results from 2005, sitting on the shelf. I double-checked the graphs I was looking at with a retired Colonel Logistician and he confirmed that I was reading them correctly. This too paid for the MRAPs.

3. Saving the win keeps our enemies from being emboldened, thus paying for the urgent needs. Did any of you ever calculate the cost of losing the Vietnam War? How many countries fell to communism in the 1970s, and how expensive was that to counter in the Cold War? You have to go all-in when you fight a war. B29s were worthless within five years of the end of WWII, but that was not a reason to not build them for use in 1944/5.

4. You forgot about how expensive TBIs are going to be. Why don't you argue for HMMWVs on a cost basis because deceased servicemen and -women are cheaper than those who survive with tramatic brain injuries?

5. I say again: I don't care that MRAPs don't fit permanent organizations. They were never intended for that. Heh, Nation Building, low intensity conflict, COIN are more likely that state-on-state conflict, so we might want to keep a few MRAPs in storage. Otherwise, melt them down and make a ship.

6. Industry capacity is instant for existing technologies, and when the Govt is the only market, it will never preceed appropriations. This kind of thinking is learned by first-year b-school students. I think the Pentagon Establishment is very smart, so when they said "there's no industry capacity", I figure they were just trying to make things more confusing so they could defend the budgets of existing programs.

7. We cannot know perfectly what would have happened for obvious reasons, but we have to estimate. If the enemy could easily kill us in HMMWVs, what do you think they would have done? they would have poured more resources into that effort.

8. Let's talk about the combined arms efforts described in the audits.
By forcing them to build a bigger bomb--sometimes much bigger and still they often did not kill us--what happened? It put pressure on their supply chain. Left-of-boom activities have to increase. The enemy has to take more risks gathering explosives. We cut their effective inventory to ~20% of previous. (Have you ever seen a business where 80% of its inventory spoils? That use to happen every time an airplane left the gate mostly empty.) We catch more bomb factories! Fewer bombs make it to the roads. So the MRAPs made all the preceding toolsets in the Counter-Landmine Continuum more effective!

Now I have a few questions that really all have the same answer: why was Mr. Gates so scornful of the "Pentagon Establishment"? Why was Mr. Eisenhower so worried about the "Military-industrial complex"? Why was Albert Speer pleased when the Army Air Corps bombed his version of the Pentagon Establishment in WWII, because it removed unnecessary "ballast" at least for a few months? Why did the MRAP initiation effort have to go around the Pentagon Establishment?

I thank you for sharing your background in the comments of the previous article because it illustrates the typical background from which your type of thinking comes from. When the MCCDC Establishment was humbled in 2007-2009, they started giving Majors and LtCol's more freedom to do good things for the warfighter. It was like a breath of fresh air. That's why I advocate for a changing of the guard.

Move Forward

Mon, 07/23/2012 - 10:57pm

<i>“The Pentagon Establishment used four primary arguments against MRAPs in 2006:
1) MRAPs are too expensive.
2) There was no industry capacity.
3) The enemy will just build a bigger bomb.
4) MRAPs do not integrate with all our other toolsets.” </i>

OK, I’ll play Devil’s Advocate.

<i>Too expensive</i>: At nearly $50 billion for 27,000 MRAPs, they were too expensive. You left out expenses like $150,000 to fly each one into Afghanistan. Much higher fuel consumption means the fuel tanker driver gets blown up more often and they CAN’T ride in a MRAP. Cost of fuel into Afghanistan and Iraq was a major expense with MRAPs probably using twice the fuel of an up-armored HMMWV. Wearing out HMMWVs was not a problem since JLTV would replace them down the road. Up-armored HMMWVs in Afghanistan were less a problem until the last few years. It was costly and major wear and tear on C-17s to air-insert all those MRAPs/M-ATV, but at least by then the M-ATV and 7 tons were a more efficient and effective single type vehicle solution.

Citing $400K per lost Soldier/Marine is a unpalatable argument. But for the sake of an argument, with an open turret, the blast effect still affects troops inside. Ask Carl Prine, Mike Few, or countless others here. So now you have potentially much more than $400K for survivor VA expenses and disability for Soldiers/Marines. Lives lost to rollovers and drownings. Disability bouncing around inside or getting door slammed on limbs. Falls getting in and out. These are all sick argument, but nearly as factual as citing survivor insurance. Why not simply limit road travel! Seems the COPs of the same timeframe accomplished much the same by requiring less commuting from FOBs.

On a similar thought, couldn't the Army/Marines have bought over 2600 UH-60M/UH-1Y, or 1300 CH-47F/53E, or who knows how many K-MAX and Snow Goose UAS to move troops and/or their supplies to COPs and eliminate much of the ground commuting to the battlefield? Fly more night raids and air assaults. Many contractors could have shown up with MI-17s, airdropped supplies, and what about those new C-27s that were doing so well until they got cut off…by costs.

<i>Industry capacity:</i> Well I guess it must have been somewhat lacking or they would never have chosen to build 28 MRAP types instead of a single type of M-ATV. Consider the cost of the multiple different field service representatives for those 28 types, parts and tires for those 28 types. Why couldn’t fewer troops have been on the road using fewer MRAPs checked out to multiple units instead of sitting all day in the motor pool when not in use. We eventually did have more COPs instead of commuting from FOBs,

Larger, taller supply trucks like the Marine 7 tons and armored HEMTTs are inherently more IED safe. Keep troops in COPs every 5 kms along Hwy 1 between Kabul and Camp Leatherneck. That is just 100 platoon COPs or 4500 troops with aerostat and elevated tower views to eliminate possible IED digging in between sites. Follow that up with UAS flying a race track down Hwy 1 every 10 minutes using an automated program to maintain spacing at a prescribed approved airspace altitude.

<i>Bigger bombs.</i> Recently, a MaxxPro failed to save six Soldiers so the bigger bomb argument is not wholly without merit. Couldn’t we have used some of that money to find IED diggers before the big boom? I recall sitting on a beach in Tel Aviv just after a terrorist rubber boat attack during the Intifada. Every type of imaginable helicopter flew by that beach every few minutes thus making it impossible to have time to plant IEDs if applied to Hwy 1 or similar Iraq supply routes. The Israelis also dragged chain link fences behind jeeps on dirt roads to leave a pattern to discern changes. Today’s UAS have even better tools to discern change.

<i>MRAPs don’t fit many future organizations.</i> All the aircraft or heavier cargo trucks listed earlier would certainly fit current and future war toolsets and organizations. MRAPs do not. M-ATV do, but admittedly it took the experiences of MRAP to lead to the M-ATV better way. We very nearly DID lose JLTV because all the money was spent on MRAPs. Where would future Soldiers/Marines have been then. One thousand extra saved lives now due to MRAP might easily have led to 10,000 more lost lives in a major future war without JLTV.

How about more route clearance teams to allow fewer MRAPs? More line charge vehicles/trailers? Build bypass roads around towns that only military can use. More dogs, EOD teams, and unmanned ground vehicles? More unattended sensors along roads. Rewards to Iraqis and Afghanis for reporting IEDs being dug.

Again, I'm somewhat playing Devil’s Advocate as MRAPs certainly saved countless could have some of the other alternative spending and TTP mentioned. However, saving lives by wastefully hurrying up to spend $50 billion on vehicles that largely are useless for much else, and that will require extensive prepositioning costs and rebuild, is hardly my idea of a model for future acquisition.

Biggs Darklighter

Mon, 07/23/2012 - 5:51am

Congrats on a great article that documents the problems with DoD equipment aquistion, the military industrial complex and the assorted mafias in the Pentagon and private sector that blocked MRAP aquisition. Let's not forget an Army study also declared the HMMWV a death trap for modern warfare not long after the "Blackhawk Down" debacle but we kept on using it anyway. That's what happens when AM General has too much power and influence over wheeled vehicle aquistion.