The urgency surrounding the multi-billion-dollar purchase of blast-resistant vehicles for the U.S. military is new, but the vehicles themselves are anything but. “They all hail back to southern African designs,” says Doug Coffey, spokesman for BAE., which builds the RG-33 armored truck. The roughly dozen “Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected” models, all with v-shaped hulls, have their roots in vehicles designed in the 1970s to counter road mines laid by black African guerillas during the Rhodesian “Bush War.”
Considering the provenance of today’s MRAPs, it’s perhaps surprising that one of the most successful African designs has been entirely absent from the U.S. program. The absence says more about politics and industrial considerations that it does about the virtues of particular designs. The Wolf, a 10-ton blast-resistant truck from Namibian state-owned manufacturer WMF, has served in the Danish, German and Namibian armies as well as with non-military agencies, the first of several hundred entering service in 1984. The latest model, the Wer’Wolf, debuted in 2000 and was quickly adopted by the Namibian army.
U.S. military officials took note of Wer’Wolf. In April 2004, two different Pentagon analysts recommended buying blast-resistant trucks, specifically Wer’Wolf, to counter increasingly lethal roadside bombs in Iraq, according to a recent USA Today investigation. The same report revealed that the Army Corps of Engineers requested 53 Wer’Wolfs in early 2004 to protect its people in Iraq, but got permission to buy only four.
Clearly the Pentagon was aware of Wer’Wolf even before the belated launch of the MRAP program in late 2006. But when the Marine Corps began handing out production contracts for MRAP trucks in January 2007, small firms including Protected Vehicles and Force Protection, Inc, both based in South Carolina, were among the winners, but WMF was nowhere to be found. What happened?
“Simply because the U.S Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) Trade Agreements Act stipulates how the U.S. may purchase foreign-made technologies and end items,” WMF founder Hannes Kögl explained in correspondence to Pentagon officials, leaked to DTI. “The Wer’Wolf cannot be purchase under U.S DoD acquisitions unless WMF can find a way to have it adhere to the DFARS,” Kögl continued. “At this point and into the foreseeable future, WMF will have to consider partnering with a company that can adhere to the DFARS trade requirements if WMF wants to have the opportunity to compete.”
But every effort to find a U.S. partner was thwarted by circumstance. In November 2006, Force Protection officials toured WMF’s Namibia facility, followed in February by reps from General Dynamics. But the American firms ended up partnering with each other instead of with WMF, and by then the first round of the MRAP competition was well under way. Now Kögl is searching for a U.S. partner so that WMF can enter Wer’Wolf into the second round of MRAP buys slated to begin in January. In his correspondence he mentioned Boeing and Texas Armoring Corporation as potential partners.
Read the whole story in the latest issue of DTI.
Military breaks own MRAP press rules
General: reporters are a risk to MRAPs
MRAP contenders whittled down
How to build a bazillion MRAPs
MRAP losers keep mum
Force Protection ramps up
Afghans get MRAPs, too