The second round of purchases of V-shaped, blast-resistant trucks for the U.S. military in Iraq is focused on defeating what is perhaps the most dangerous weapon to emerge in the five-year-old war: explosively formed penetrators (EFP) that can punch through even the thick armor of a main battle tank. EFPs account for no more than five percent of explosive devices used against U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq, but in July caused a third of all fatalities and more than ten percent of injuries.
Despite much hype, it’s not clear that the latest MRAP designs are up to the EFP challenge. And programmatic changes have got at least one industry official worried that the potentially $20-billion MRAP scheme is becoming more rigid, while insurgent bomb-makers continue to demonstrate remarkable adaptability. Most of the roughly dozen MRAP makers polled in September said they would submit vehicle proposals ahead of MRAP II’s October 1 deadline, but only two would talk specifics. While unverifiable, it’s generally assumed that EFP protection involves layered armor that attempts to tumble or slow the penetrator.
California-based Ceradyne has partnered with Wisconsin truck-maker Oshkosh and Ideal Innovations, Inc., in Virginia to offer the “Bull” MRAP, a vehicle reportedly designed from the ground up to defeat EFPs. Details about Bull’s design are held closely, and the vehicle has appeared in public only as a mockup at the October Association of the U.S. Army convention in Washington, D.C. Sources say that Oshkosh and Ceradyne delivered two test models to the Army in March – and that the resulting EFP simulations were so successful that the military quickly adapted the Bull’s armor into the so-called “Frag 6” armor kits that have been kluged onto MRAP I vehicles that were already on their way to Iraq.
Despite its apparently superb performance, Bull received no orders in MRAP I. Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich) and Joseph Biden (D-Del) took up Bull’s cause. Levin wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Gates promoting the vehicle and Biden asked, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee event, why the military hadn’t ordered the vehicle, according to USA Today. The delays are consistent with the lead-up to MRAP and with the conduct of the program itself. Troops in the field had been begging for blast-protected vehicles for two years before the Pentagon moved to purchase them; when the Defense Department finally launched MRAP, it ultimately saddled the program with unwieldy procedures. Ceradyne vice president Marc King praised MRAP I for its rolling purchases that ran parallel to testing. But MRAP II abandons that flexible approach for a traditional single deadline.
King says the military shouldn’t conceptualize MRAP II as a typical competition. “What are we competing here? We should just be looking at the technologies. Competition is when have one or two or three approaches to something and you’re looking for the most cost-effective solution. [Instead] we should be looking at all the technologies that can be applied over a given period of time. “What they [the MRAP program] should do is say, ‘We’re not waiting for a particular date. When you’ve got something, bring it to me. I will test it, and if it works, I will buy.’” It would be an “open solicitation,” King adds.
But even better bureaucratic processes, resulting in better vehicles fielded faster, won’t solve the EFP problem. EFPs are cost-effective – just a few tens of thousands of dollars apiece – and can be scaled upward to defeat better armor. When asked in August if insurgents could just build bigger EFPs to kill MRAPs, program manger Mike Brogan, a Marine Corps brigadier general, said, “Yes.”
Read on in the latest issue of Defense Technology International.
MRAPs an emotional debate
The MRAP that got away
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