In January, my team traded out our well-worn M1114 Up-armored HMMWV for a 4X4 JERRV, one of the models of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles purchased by the Marine Corps. We were pretty excited to have the new vehicle, especially after our first look inside. I mean, the thing looks like the Cadillac Escalade of tactical vehicles. The IED threat in our little slice of Al Anbar had long since dropped to non-existent, but it felt good to have something that was specifically engineered to combat the threat, you know? It didn't take long for the novelty to wear off, however, and by the end of the deployment we had taken to operating mainly from a Humvee again. The MRAP is a superb EOD and convoy security vehicle (the acronym JERRV stands for Joint EOD Rapid Response Vehicle), but it is merely a passable utility and/or fighting vehicle. The thing was obviously designed with the EOD mission in mind, and if any operator input was incorporated into the design, it clearly did not come from the infantry community.
On the good side, it is obviously better equipped to resist blast-type mines and IEDs than any other vehicle in the inventory. On top of the increased protection, the MRAP has a fantastic communications system installed, much better than what we had in our Humvee. Most ANGLICO Humvees look like Monster Garage rejects - additional antennas installed in weird places, additional radios installed in all sorts of unauthorized fashion, all trying to maximize the communications capability of our vehicles. Here we had a vehicle that came with brand new multiband radios, all tied in to an intercommunications system. Although many of the comm capabilities are completely unnecessary for most units, it almost seemed like this thing was made for ANGLICO. In addition, the designers were definitely looking to improve crew comfort in these things - the seats are much more comfortable than the ones in a Humvee, the Vehicle Commander's (VC) seat was MUCH roomier than in a Humvee (even my 155 lb ass ends up wedged between the door and the Blue Force Tracker mount in a Humvee), the air conditioning system was top-notch, etc.
For a motorized infantry mission, however, the MRAP's shortcomings are many. It handles atrociously offroad. The suspension is incredibly stiff, with the end result being that you must be tightly strapped in to survive the jostling in the back of the vehicle. Well, my radio operator sits in the back, and those wonderful radios I mentioned before are placed in such a way that the only person who can readily access them is the gunner. Someone that I would prefer keep his attention oriented, you know, outside the vehicle. My radio guy can certainly reach around the gunner's legs and work on the radios, but not if he's tightly strapped in trying to survive the ride.
Because we frequently live and fight from our vehicle, we have to carry an assortment of odds and ends for our radios, weapons, and ourselves. Things like water, MREs, ammunition, spare barrels for the machinegun, and spare items for the radios. The jostling that I just mentioned makes it nearly impossible to store any of these items in the interior of the vehicle without significant modification. We tried removing one of the seats and putting in a wooden box with space for some of these items, but many items were tossed completely out of the box and ended up strewn about the floor of the vehicle. There is a complete lack of weapons stowage for passengers in the rear of the vehicle, and the weapons racks for the driver and VC are designed for M16s, not M4s. One aspect that seems to elude many tactical vehicle designers is that motorized infantry typically store their sustainment load (i.e. rucksacks) externally (see below). This allows the vehicle's internal space to be utilized for items that I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, which must be readily accessible throughout the day. Sustainment items can typically wait until a long halt of some sort before they are needed. Yet, the MRAP has no provision for strapping a rucksack to the outside of the vehicle.
The MRAP is a vehicle that is well-suited for a particular niche, but due to pressure from people such as our lawmakers in Congress, it has been pressed into service in roles that it is not suited for. For a unit that never leaves a paved surface, and rarely spends more than 24 hours outside of some sort of operating base at a time, the MRAP's protection and communications capabilities make it a superb asset. For units that must remain expeditionary, be able to operate in a wide variety of terrain and pursue the enemy wherever he is found, the MRAP is ultimately a poor choice, and I in retrospect I am very glad that Gen Conway is reducing the number of these vehicles on order. Personally, if given the choice, I would take an M1114 or M1152 HMMWV over the JERRV 4X4, and would seek other means to reduce the IED threat through such things as tribal leader engagement and refining mounted patrol TTPs.
For more reading on the subject, try Defense Tech. As you can see, Christian has been leveling similar criticism since last year. Christian's article is one of the more down-to-earth articles I've seen on the subject. He and I had a good discussion about personal body armor at the Milbloggies last year, it looks like we are of generally the same opinion on the MRAP issue as well.