Hamburg, N.Y. Police Department’s newly obtained Navistar Defense MaxxPro MRAP
Thousands of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan owe their lives to the mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicles that were rushed into theater in response to the proliferation of roadside bombs.
Few would argue against the program’s unmitigated success in saving lives, though some critics contend its enormous financial cost. Manufacturers of some MRAP variants hope to entice the Army to repurpose the trucks instead of spending money to modernize its armored brigades.
But the Pentagon wants to be rid of most of the hulking trucks, so much so that it is giving away thousands.
At least 2,000 MRAPs are still in use in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 12. About 1,200 of those have been declared excess to military requirements. Donating them to allies in the region is easier said than done because they are expensive to move and relatively cheap to destroy.
“We’re in the process of seeing if there are any of our allies that can use those vehicles,” Dunford said. “The challenge is … if we want to give them to somebody, they have to accept them as is, where is. So it’s very expensive for countries to take them from Afghanistan.”
It costs the U.S. military less than $10,000 to destroy an MRAP but more than $50,000 to move it to another location, Dunford said. Most of the MRAPs the military will need for potential future conflicts are already in the United States, he added. Still, there is a stateside supply that exceeds the military’s future needs.
Domestic police departments nationwide have been picking up those MRAPs free of charge through a Defense Logistics Agency program to offload more than 13,000 of them.
Lewisburg, Tenn., a town of about 11,000 people, was the recipient of a MaxxPro, manufactured by Navistar Defense, last summer. Detective Sgt. David Henley said the vehicle has been a lifesaver for the town’s regional SWAT team, which is responsible for four counties.
“We had been on the list to get an armored vehicle for several years and got lucky when the MRAPs became available,” Henley said. “There’s no way we could have afforded a vehicle with this level of protection.”
The department has used the vehicle to serve warrants on potentially violent suspects, Henley said. Without it, an officer would have to approach a residence on foot or in a patrol car. The SWAT team has sporadic access to a Bearcat armored car that is stationed more than an hour away, he said.
“We were having to do it the old fashioned way and put a man in harm’s way to approach a situation,” Henley said. “It’s more about the intimidation factor than anything else. Someone looks out their window and sees that big ol’ MRAP sitting there … it changes their whole thought process pretty quickly.”
The Army is less enthusiastic about its 27,000-strong MRAP fleet, though the vehicles have been credited with saving at least 4,000 lives from lethal homemade bomb blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Defense Department made a huge investment — around $45 billion — in MRAPs out of sheer necessity. Now it must figure out how to sustain a portion of the fleet.
MRAP procurement stands out as one of the swiftest, most streamlined defense acquisition programs in history. The most recent corollary was when automobile manufacturers retooled their factories to produce tanks, trucks, aircraft engines and other wartime necessities during World War II, said Meg Kulungowski, government relations director for Navistar, in an interview with National Defense at the company’s Washington, D.C., offices.
But the Pentagon ended up with a fleet of behemoth, purpose-built wheeled vehicles just before it ended two wars and endeavored to become a smaller, more agile and adaptable force.
In October 2012, it shuttered the MRAP production line. Nearly 13,000 of them were still in Afghanistan, though the seven original manufacturers had produced more than twice that many. Many of the vehicles sent to domestic law enforcement agencies have never left the country or seen combat.
When it downsizes its vehicle fleets after the war in Afghanistan ends, the Army will keep 3,000 MaxxPros — a mixture of 500 ambulances and the smaller, lighter Dash version. It also plans to retain 5,600 of 8,700 MRAP All Terrain Vehicles made by Oshkosh Defense. Oshkosh declined to make an executive available to comment.
Navistar’s West Point, Miss., final-assembly plant has been idle since spring 2013, Kulungowski said. The company plans to restart production if a foreign order comes in. Some of the Army’s remaining inventory also will be reset at that facility in coming months. There also are 480 MaxxPros at Fort Bliss, Texas. Contract negotiations are underway for resetting those at base facilities, where the service is also resetting the M-ATVs it plans to keep.
“We look at it as a good opportunity to prove we can do reset anywhere,” she said. “Just tell us where to be.”
Meanwhile, the DLA has been tasked with offloading MRAPs of various makes and models to stateside law enforcement agencies.
The Law Enforcement Support Office has transferred 196 MRAP vehicles since August 2013 to qualified law enforcement agencies, said DLA spokeswoman Tonya Johnson.
There are 780 agencies on the wait list for MRAPs. DLA does not donate any property to the agencies. Rather, items that are allocated to law enforcement remain the property of the Defense Department, Johnson said. All costs associated with the transfer are borne by either the state or the law enforcement agency receiving MRAPs, as is the case for all equipment received through DLA’s Law Enforcement Support Office.
A requesting law enforcement agency is required to meet certain criteria in order to receive an armored vehicle, including justification for use of the vehicle, such as in response to active shooter incidents, SWAT and drug interdiction; geographical area and multi-jurisdiction use; ability to pay for repairs and maintenance of the vehicle; and security and restricted access to the vehicle.
“The excess DoD property transferred under the [law enforcement support] program is used by law enforcement agencies to keep citizens in their jurisdiction safer from terrorist activity and to help reduce criminal drug activity,” Johnson said.
Questions regarding the disposition of MRAPs remaining in Afghanistan were relayed to the office of the secretary of defense, which did not return repeated attempts for comment. Many of them will be transferred or sold to Middle East allies such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and neighboring countries, according to news reports.
Kulungowski said at least 1,900 MaxxPros that were converted to independent suspensions would be disposed of as excess defense articles. Having witnessed the protection the vehicles offered U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, many nations are in the market for new and used MRAPs, she said.
“There are other countries that have already expressed interest in those,” she said. “It’s good for us in a sense because they are new customers … for potential follow-on sales as well as parts and sustainment. Some of those countries already have expressed interest in new vehicles, so hopefully there will be some new production along with that.”
Navistar also built thousands of medium tactical vehicles for use in both wars. The MTV shares many common parts with the MaxxPro, which could open the door to further sustainment contracts and foreign military sales, she said.
Kulungowski said the Army should reconsider divesting such a capable fleet of trucks without contemplating its future potential. The Army’s tactical wheeled vehicle strategy calls for integration of some MRAPs into its brigade combat teams, but that plan relegates them to a secondary status as troop carriers. It does not make them an official asset of any of the Army’s brigade combat team structures, Kulungowski said.
Funding for MRAPs came entirely from the overseas contingency funding used to finance the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is a $2 million pittance for MRAP modification included in the Pentagon’s fiscal 2014 base budget while overseas contingency funding for the vehicle stood at $300 million.
The Army’s tactical truck development efforts have traditionally purpose built a truck for each mission, which is more costly in the long run, she said.
Navistar has hatched a plan to use old MRAPs to satisfy future Army requirements, namely the need to replace its M113 armored troop carriers. A request for proposals for the M113 replacement was released in December.
The Army has dubbed that effort the armored multipurpose vehicle, or AMPV.
Plans are to buy at least 3,000 AMPVs in five variants: general purpose; mission command, mortar carrier, medical evacuation and medical treatment. They will replace the 3,000 M113s currently serving with combat units.
BAE Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems are the two major competitors for the AMPV so far. Both companies are offering retooled versions of their flagship armored vehicles.
General Dynamics last year unveiled a tracked version of the Stryker. BAE plans to take the body of a Bradley, add a V-shaped blast-resistant hull and preserve the expensive chassis, suspension, engine and transmission components of the original vehicle.
The AMPV engineering and manufacturing development was allotted $70 million in the Army’s fiscal year 2015 budget request. Plans are to increase funding for the EMD phase to $174 million in fiscal 2016, then continue allocations at lower levels through the five year defense plan that ends in fiscal 2019.
The service plans to award a five-year EMD contract in May for 29 vehicles to undergo government testing, followed by a three-year low-rate initial production contract beginning in 2020. While BAE and General Dynamics are the front runners to build the AMPV because the Army wants a tracked vehicle, the 3,000-unit requirement corresponds with the number of MaxxPros the Army is keeping. Moreover, those vehicles already are performing many of the desired AMPV missions, Kulungowski said.
Navistar has populated MaxxPro MRAPs with equipment to fulfill all of those missions except as a mortar carrier. Kulungowski said the company would be able and willing to add it if necessary.
“We have had one on the drawing board, but we never actually cut metal to do one,” she said of the mortar carrier version. The command-and-control variant has been demonstrated at the Army’s network integration evaluation at Fort Bliss.
“We’ve been trying to convince the Army that there are mission packages that are on other vehicles … that you can put on the MaxxPro, which you’ve already bought and paid for,” she said. “We feel like we can do all five mission sets of a 113.”
The company has met with limited success in convincing Army officials to repurpose MRAPs because there still is no official requirement for it. They were fielded out of operational necessity when other armored vehicles like the Stryker failed to provide protection from roadside bombs.
“Given that you’ve got no money, why don’t you figure out how you can maximize the platform you have already bought as opposed to trying to figure out how you can buy additional platforms?” Kulungowski asked.
Other vehicles in the Army’s heavy tactical truck fleet include the RG-33L and RG-31, both made by divisions of BAE Systems. Those MRAPs and the Buffalo route clearance vehicle share few parts and each is built on a unique chassis, thus eliminating the opportunity to achieve a fleet of common vehicles.
Photo Credit: Alicia Greco/The Sun News, Defense Dept.