Mine-resistant ambush vehicles, better known as MRAPs, have been credited with saving thousands of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan — 40,000 to be exact, as reported by the Pentagon’s Joint Program Office for Mine-Resistant Protected Vehicles.
But recently, the $45 billion MRAP program has come under fire for its high cost, and some have questioned whether less expensive vehicles — such as armored Humvees — would have been just as effective in preventing loss of life.
In a recent Foreign Affairs article titled “The MRAP Boondoggle,” authors Chris Rohlfs and Ryan Sullivan, professors of economics at Syracuse University and the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, respectively, argued that it was a wasteful program.
“Data from the battlefield does not support the claims that MRAPs are highly effective in decreasing the number of U.S. causalities,” said the authors, citing their own study where they used For Official Use Only data supplied by the Defense Department.
“For infantry units, one life was saved for every seven medium vehicles purchased, at a total cost of around $1 million to $2 million per saved life. However, tactical wheeled vehicles with ‘heavy’ amounts of protection, such as the MRAP … did not save more lives than medium armored vehicles did, despite their cost of $600,000 apiece — roughly three times as much as the medium-protected vehicles.”
The Pentagon got its numbers wrong when they calculated the number of lives saved by the MRAP, Rohlfs and Sullivan said. The problem was that the Defense Department “added up the number of enemy-initiated attacks in which MRAPs were involved, added up the number of troops who were in those MRAPs, and counted each one as a life saved.”
But this is a fallacy because it would suggest that if the Army had used up-armored Humvees over the MRAP, all occupants of the vehicles would have died, they wrote.
“What does this mean? For most units, tactical wheeled vehicles with medium amounts of protection are just as effective as heavily protected vehicles at reducing casualties. And they are a fraction of the cost,” wrote Rohlfs and Sullivan.
Responding to the criticism, John Urias, president of Oshkosh Defense asked, “How do they value the cost of an American life? … It’s priceless.”
James Hasik, a defense industry analyst and defense contractor consultant, disagreed with Rohlfs and Sullivan’s findings. Hasik said the study was at times unclear, and the data used was faulty.
For example, Hasik said the authors looked only at Army data starting in 2006, but there were MRAP-like vehicles already in Iraq being used by the Army as far back as 2004. That’s two years that the study did not account for, Hasik said.
The Rohlfs and Sullivan study also suggested that MRAPs were not cost effective because IED attacks were on a downward trajectory by the time the vehicles were deployed.
Hasik said this was a wonderful view from hindsight, but at the time there was no way to know when the war was winding down.
“These things were really effective when folks were blowing up IEDs left and right against American troops,” said Hasik. “You didn’t know at the time that the war wasn’t going to heat up.”
In a second Foreign Affairs piece that countered “The MRAP Boondoggle” finding, authors Christopher J. Lamb and Sally Scudder, both of the Center for Strategic Research, also cast doubt on the study.
“Rohlfs and Sullivan’s findings are skewed because they measure the value of MRAPs by comparing fatality rates among units that ‘faced similar baseline levels of violence.’ But in Iraq, a baseline of violence is hard to establish: troops met all kinds of attacks — improvised explosive devices but also small groups of insurgents, snipers, and indirect fire,” they said in their article titled, “Why the MRAP Is Worth the Money.”
Lamb and Scudder also said Rohlfs and Sullivan did not take into account wounded soldiers, and noted it was much cheaper to protect soldiers than to replace them. For example, it costs $500,000 to replace an enlisted soldier and anywhere between $1 million to $2 million to replace an officer, they wrote.
Besides protecting lives, MRAPs changed the strategy of insurgents, Lamb and Scudder said. Now, they have to use more explosives to create IEDs big enough to penetrate the vehicle’s shells, something that not only takes more resources, but is riskier to the insurgent as well.
Lamb and Scudder, in their research, also asserted that if the Pentagon had deployed a larger number of MRAPs earlier, 1,609 lives would have been saved.Photo Credit: Army