The $47.7 billion era of the MRAP came to an official close Monday in what amounted to a retirement ceremony at the Pentagon for the production line of the lumbering vehicles that were rushed into Iraq and Afghanistan to protect troops from roadside bombs.
“For sure we’re still at war,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, “but MRAP production and fielding has ended.” “A new strategic era is dawning” in which the Pentagon projects that there will be little use for the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle in a faster and lighter military, Carter said.
“We’re here to end an era in the history of the MRAP program and begin a new one,” Carter said.
MRAP oversight and management at the Defense Department was transitioning from the Joint Program Executive Office, which had focused on production, to the Services and Special Operations Command, which will mothball most of the fleet and look to sell as many as they can to allies.
The demand for more heavily-armored vehicles came from the field as casualties mounted for troops riding in flat-bottomed Humvees from attacks by “improvised explosive devices,” or roadside bombs – the biggest single killer of U.S. and allied troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military initially responded with jammers to foil the triggering devices and up-armored Humvees, Carter said, but the enemy countered with “new triggers and bigger bombs to tear our vehicles apart.”
In 2007, prodded by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Pentagon’s often creaky acquisitions systems began a crash program to build and field MRAPs, and within 27 months more than 700 were deployed, Carter said.
Through September this year, a total of 27,740 MRAPs rolled off the assembly lines of seven manufacturers, including BAE Systems, Oshkosh Defense and Navistar, and 12,726 remain in theater in Afghanistan, according to Defense Department figures. About 870 have been sold to foreign militaries and another 700 are on order for allies.
Five versions of the MRAP were produced, weighing from 13-28 tons, with the last being the M-ATV (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain Vehicle) for use on rougher roads in Afghanistan. All the models featured the V-shaped underbody to disperse bomb blasts.
The cost for individual production models of the MRAP ranged from $535,000 to $600,000, but field models including spare parts and upgrades came to an average of $1.29 million, the Pentagon said.
Pentagon officials and military analysts have given various estimates on how many lives were saved by the MRAPs, but most put the range in the thousands.”
Vice President Joe Biden, who joined Carter at the ceremony in the Pentagon auditorium, recalled “getting considerable pushback on the floor” from Democrats and Republicans when he argued for the MRAP as a senior Democrat from Delaware in the Senate in 2007.
The opponents argued that a new land vehicle was expected in five years, and pouring money into the MRAPs would be a waste of funds, Biden said. He said he countered by quoting the then-Marine Commandant, Gen. James Conway, as calling the MRAP “the highest moral imperative I have as Commandant.”
The funding was approved and since then “we’ve got a whole lot of men and women coming home in one piece. You saved thousands of lives,” Biden told the audience, many of whom worked in the MRAP program.
Carter said the transition from the MRAP program was “part of a larger transition” for the entire military under the strategic guidelines ordered up earlier this year by President Obama calling for lighter and smaller armed forces that would seek to avoid long-term ground wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Last April, Army and Marine generals forecast to the House Armed Services Committee that the MRAPs would be phased out of future contingency planning.
Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Mills testified that “The Marine Corps has a little over 4,000 of them. We intend, as we come out of Afghanistan, to retain about 2,500.”
“Some of those will be put into a training status so that our Marines remain familiar with them, are able to maintain them and operate from them,” Mills said. “And some will be put into a status of bubble wrap, if you will, to be used if the need arises again for us to be able to use them given the terrain, given the threat, etc.”