Many of the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles that Pentagon officials have heralded as life-savers in two wars are most likely headed for mothballs, or — for the more dinged up ones — scrap yards.
The armored tactical wheeled vehicles were rapidly fielded to stave off the roadside bomb threat, and saved 40,000 lives, according to the Pentagon’s Joint Program Office for Mine-Resistant Protected Vehicles. The fate of the Afghan version after the scheduled pullout from that country in 2014 is still unknown, and has experts speculating on whether they will be sold for scrap or stored.
This uncertainty hasn’t stopped the vehicles’ manufacturers from hauling these trucks to trade shows in hopes that new customers emerge. To date, few of the models have been sold to non-U.S. buyers.
That was until Oshkosh Corp. inked a multi-million dollar deal to sell 750 of its off-road version of the MRAP to the United Arab Emirates.
“We believe there is a market and a need for MRAPs,” said John Urias, president of Oshkosh Defense. “I can’t say it will always be an MRAP classification of vehicle, [but] there is a market and a need globally for some kind of armored protection.”
A company spokesman wouldn’t disclose the exact value of the contract, but said it was “several hundred millions” of dollars.
Urias said that the UAE approached Oshkosh about obtaining M-ATVs — the U.S. military’s version of the MRAP created for the Afghanistan conflict. They will be delivered between January and August of 2013, and are basically the same M-ATV model, Urias said. As for other potential foreign customers, he said it would be “premature” to list countries that they are working with.
Navistar, which has built nearly 9,000 of the vehicles for the U.S. military and its allies, has also ventured into international territory to sell its version of the armored truck. In 2009, it sold 15 MaxxPro MRAPs to Singapore, and in 2010, South Korea purchased 10 vehicles, said Navistar spokeswoman Elissa Koc.
While Navistar is currently not producing MRAPs, it is actively working on the sustainment of its vehicles and retrofitting them with new equipment, such as a new rolling chassis upgrade, Koc said. The upgrade gives the trucks a new independent suspension chassis, which enhances its off-road capabilities.
“While there is not going to be a whole lot of demand for new MRAPs, we are looking for solutions to keep the current fleet relevant,” said Koc.
BAE Systems, a major MRAP manufacturer, declined to speak about plans for its vehicles. General Dynamics Land Systems, another MRAP manufacturer, did not respond to requests for comment.
Despite some criticism of the MRAP — such as maneuverability issues and their hulking size — Urias said the vehicles are still relevant.
James Hasik, a defense industry analyst and defense contractor consultant, said MRAPs are nowhere near the junkyard yet. While they are not being produced as fervently as before, the need will not disappear, he said.
“The vehicle concept isn’t frozen in time, if the need is for greater off-road mobility then one can . . . produce a vehicle that is more mobile,” said Hasik.
There will never be another blowout sale for MRAPs like in the past, but “the price is right” for them, compared to other vehicles, Hasik said. Additionally, Hasik foresees landmines continuing to be a security issue into the future — something that should keep the vehicles relevant.
“You could buy a vehicle like an armored Humvee, but the trouble we’ve seen repeatedly — and not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, in frankly wars all over the world — is that landmines are cheap and pretty damn effective,” said Hasik.
As for what the Defense Department plans to do with its thousands of MRAPs, the future is still uncertain. Ground forces will at least stockpile a few thousand MRAPs, Hasik said. It would be “extraordinarily embarrassing” if the they rid themselves of all their MRAPs or sold them for scrap, and later found themselves engaged in another ground war.
“The last thing that the Army or Marine Corps would want to encounter in some future ground campaign would be their own unpreparedness for landmines, whether they are manufactured or improvised,” said Hasik.
But the real future for the MRAP market, Hasik said, lies in upgrading existing vehicles.
“Inside the U.S., the future of [the MRAP market] is upgrade programs and overhaul because they have some pretty darn good vehicles. It’s hard to make the case for new vehicles when you have 20,000 in storage,” said Hasik.
As for selling new ones, MRAP manufactures will have to look internationally to secure contracts, Hasik said. Countries with guerilla warfare problems — such as India — where landmines are being used, would benefit from the survivability rates of the MRAP, said Hasik.
But not everyone agrees that there is a market — let alone a foreign one — for the vehicles.
“You’re going to see a few minor sales,” said Dean Lockwood, weapons systems analyst at Forecast International, a defense market intelligence provider. “But it’s certainly not anything that a manufacturer can sustain their business on.”
Foreign orders, Lockwood said, would be nothing compared to the thousands upon thousands that the Defense Department ordered for Iraq and Afghanistan.
One problem with selling the MRAP is that some foreign governments are waiting it out. Why buy them when the United States could possibly give you a fleet for free? Lockwood asked.
Another issue working against the MRAP models is the way they were built. Lockwood described the MRAP as a “good enough” vehicle to get the job done in Iraq and Afghanistan, but design issues — such as their weight and maneuverability — will cause foreign nations to look to other vehicles.
“It’s coming to an end, there may be some limited export sales… but it did what it needed to do for the time it was active,” said Lockwood.
Some governments with IED threats may decide to invest in MRAPs, Lockwood said, but the best chance for their future lies in equipping national police forces over armies.
The Defense Department will store a few, Lockwood expects, but said the situation is currently in limbo. Logistically, it would be a “headache,” to store a large number, and the MRAP was never meant to become a part of the standard inventory.
The exact number stored will depend significantly on the success of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), a truck that combines the IED-resistance of an MRAP with the agility of a Humvee, he said.
“[The JLTV] will be seen as a justification to remove most of the MRAPs from the inventory,” said Lockwood.
The Defense Department in August awarded three companies contracts to begin the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the JLTV program. The Army has said that they intend to purchase 50,000 JLTVs, and the Marine Corps put its estimate at 5,500.
As for the MRAP aftermarket, even that looks bleak, Lockwood said.
There won’t be much of an aftermarket for the MRAPs, and manufacturers will not invest their time and money into something with poor sales potential, Lockwood said. Even refurbishing used vehicles will take a significant amount of capital since those that have been used in combat are badly beaten up, he said.
“These vehicles were built for a very specific and limited requirement, they weren’t meant to be a jack-of-all trades by any stretch of the imagination,” said Lockwood.
Now that requirement — and demand — will be ebbing with time, Lockwood said.Photo Credit: Marine Corps, iStockphoto