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Tactical Vehicles 

The MRAP: Was It Worth the Price? 

10  2,012 

By Yasmin Tadjdeh 

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
Reader Comments

Re: The MRAP: Was It Worth the Price?

The MRAP is the best thing that ever happened to soldiers in combat, and we urgently need them in Nigeria for our soldiers fighting the terrorist group called book haram.

Tunde on 08/04/2014 at 16:10

Re: The MRAP: Was It Worth the Price?

So were can i get one of these MRAPs

Richard on 06/27/2014 at 05:51

Re: The MRAP: Was It Worth the Price?

6-20-2014 at 334PM. Isn't it about time
to stop making the assumption that a soldier's life is automatically near nil
because he or she didn't finish high school, had to join because of a court order or generally couldn't get a job somewhere else ? What is going on in the Middle East is going on because a
small percentage of all Muslims fervently desire ( and will Kill for )
a Worldwide Caliphate badly enough to
campaign for him militarily. It isn't
simply a matter of "pissing off" a third
world nation near Africa or the Arabian
Gulf. Thanks, Gregg

Gregg S. Pennington on 06/20/2014 at 16:40

Re: The MRAP: Was It Worth the Price?

how do you value the life of a amercan soldier if the programs cost to much ..tell that to the wife and kids of a fallen soldier ..ask a solier the feeling he gets hearing his friend was hit by an ied somewere on the batttle feild and gets to see him still alive down the road. if you are gonna send us to war why not give us the best u question the cost of airbags in cars?

alex t on 11/21/2013 at 18:30

Re: The MRAP: Was It Worth the Price?

How about our politicians try to simply stop pissing off various countries around the world, so we don't get into such messes in the first place?

Friend of a friend on 05/09/2013 at 08:52

Re: The MRAP: Was It Worth the Price?

As a survivor of a K-Kill Up Armor HMMWV IED attack that resulted in 1 KIA and 3 urgent surgical casualties, I will tell you that this article,"The MRAP Was It Worth The Price" and the Foreign Affairs piece it references are an absolute disgrace. Both must have been written by armchair academics.


The MRAP is exactly the vehicle we needed and I am grateful that it was procured and fielded with such urgency. The MRAP gave us the ability to focus on the mission, beyond a focus on only the next IED. The MRAP denied the enemy his greatest strength- the ability to strike effectively from a position of anonymity. The MRAP allowed us to survive first contact and return fire. The MRAP multiplied the value of and complimented our equipment. Try your math again. How much is all of that worth?

The MRAP was essential to changing the course of the war. Those who were there know this and can only be stunned by how quickly bookish academic criticism has crept in to obscure such an obvious truth.

Let's do it your way. Open up Excel and run some statistical analysis. Look at the data. Look at IED blast injuries and deaths pre and post MRAP arrival in theater. The correlation is undeniable. Both drop significantly shortly after MRAP vehicles made landfall.

Put your calculator down and listen very closely. 1) Never again quantify a Marine's life in dollars.
2) Never again write that a Marine Officer is "worth more" than his Marines' lives.

Marines have honor and know that it is wrong to write such things. You, however, must be told not to do so.

I cannot begin to fathom what a beltway Economist's life is worth.

And, until you've lived through a few IED ambushes, and held the hands of dying brave young men, you cannot possibly understand how offensive your article is.

Lima 5 on 09/20/2012 at 23:40

Re: The MRAP: Was It Worth the Price?

This article is good although a bit narrow. First off, the U.S. Military didn't have any armored cars (unlike many other foreign nations) besides a limited number of M1114s and M1117s ASVs. If the U.S, had armored cars, chances are that these cars would have a degree of protection against mines and IEDs.

Secondly, there were many versions of the MRAP of which the DoD eventually settled on the M-ATV as the preferred one. The photo above shows two types of MRAPs, medium and heavy.

Third, many MRAPs are outfitted with extra Anti-jamming IED devices...Rhino, DUKE antennae and other secret gear, so the price of the MRAP goes up when outfitted with this equipment, of which the M1114s often don't have. How many lives did the electronics jamming gear save compared to the MRAP itself?

Finally, the MRAP may've saved soldiers after the IED explosion, but then how about afterwards during the recovery of the MRAP or any firefight at the rescue? Just because the MRAP survived the IED doesn't mean that the enemy went away. The MRAP may've saved the lives of soldiers from the IED, but soldiers could've also been lost because of the damaged MRAP afterwards. Only soldier comments could reveal the truth about the MRAP.

Is the price of the MRAP worth it? That all depends on the entire MRAP program of which there are like three different kinds of MRAPs compared to one M1114.

Peter on 09/11/2012 at 20:55

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