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MRAP and JLTV vs. Reality

by Ward Carroll on November 10, 2008


[NOTE: Here’s another contribution from our friends at Breach Bang Clear. The author is a friend of mine, David Woroner of Survival Consultants International. He’s a ballistics expert, former PSD contractor and all-around mad scientist who’s come up with a novel new armor for newly built vehicles. This is part one of a multi-part series on new solutions for ballistic defeat.]

If it has a new gen armor system attached to it, then Im in favor of the JLTV over the MRAP. Why? Well, a number of reasons.

The MRAP has some things going for it, and its saved some lives, no question. But its not the end-all be-all, ultimate solution to whats going on in Iraq and Afghanistanand its not going to be the solution in future wars that may be fought differentlyand certainly will be fought in different terrain.

Lets face it, the MRAP is a bank vault tipped on its side with wheels and a motor. A million dollar bank vault tipped on its side with wheels and a motor. Consider some of its weaknesses, and the financial burden to fix or repair. Were talking about a serious chunk of change just in the case of blowing the undercarriage out. My opinion on this shouldnt be misconstrued as some reticence on my part to help out the troops. Anyone that knows me or has served with me knows I am STAUNCHLY behind the protection of our troops. It can be done with the technology at hand, and it can be done more efficiently.

Consider the cost, operational relevance and troop transportation capability of the MRAP (and the coming MRAPII) vs. something like the JLTV. Were in a war, and in a war, particularly conducted with blitzkrieg type operations, its always going to be better to put fewer men and less equipment into less expensive vehicles. Put simply, Id rather attack anything with a million ants than a pair of elephants. When it comes to those vehicles, protection doesnt have to be expensive, the vehicles can be more efficient to operate in a disparate variety of terrains, and lets dont forget the cost of fuel.

Let me explain further.

The concepts of blitzkrieg were known in other countries, albeit poorly developed (the British army had partially implemented it), by the end of the First World War, but the Germans had worked out the complexities of breaking through a front with highly concentrated resources. This technique failed the Germans in their offensives of March 1918, largely because the breakthrough elements were on foot and could not sustain the impetus of the initial attack. The deployment of motorized infantry was the key to sustaining a breakthrough, but this would have to wait until the 1930s to be realized.

Superimpose the realities of modern war and we can see that the Humvee has proven itself to be a woefully inadequate method of safely transporting troops into battle, even with all the so-called hillbilly armor, up-armor packages, etc. We should have done it right the first time, or not done it at all. We should still be doing things right the first time or not doing it at all…

Lets scroll back a hundred years to see the appearance of the first true British/American tanks worthy of the name. These hunks of steel, bristling with machine guns and small guns, were long enough to accomplish what they were originally designed forto bridge the gaps of trenches. In those days, this was perhaps a good idea. Review the realities of today again. Everything has changed. Virtually every fundamental tenet of modern warfare is different than it was in WWI. So why do we persist in reverting to brawn over brains?

In those days, all we had were metals and a cubic mentality. Today we understand there are lightweight materials perfectly suitable for making lighter and more maneuverable vehicles of war without sacrificing the protection necessary to make them worthy of deployment. Yet our powers that be have built and fielded a 21ST century version of the WWI tank.


There are some laws and rules that must be applied to the discussion. Obviously we know that our modern vehicles must be lightened. We have a multitude of materials now that werent dreamed of then. Most vehicles in this discussion use some type of composite armor, meaning a hybrid of several materials much stronger as an admixture than by themselves. To fully understand my contention, however, one must understand some basic Laws of Physics and Materials.

First of all we have Spectra, Dyneema and other lightweight soft material that can take up some of the weight.

But there are two laws that must be obeyed:

First, any projectile (or spall) traveling over 2,000fps will liquefy and penetrate just about any type of material. Imagine if you will a 22.250 cartridge. Its velocity is in the 4,000fps range. Now envision an M249 or Minimi type weapon putting out that sort of high velocity projectile at an incredible rate of fire and you begin to see some of the problem.

The second rule pertains to the shape of the armor. If it has a poor deflection angle, the round will penetrate rather than deflect. Take a lesson from our stealth aircraft. Its angles do the same thing, only with radar instead of hostile fire. The same principle applies to ballistic trajectory impact.

The reason boron carbide is so widely used is that it is a ceramic, which is essentially a glass. The majority of heavy duty anti-penetration materials in hard armor utilize this form of material. There are alternatives in play, such as pressing with an applied resin on top of soft armor until it hardens, then sandwiching it between some hard armor. One thing that has always taken me aback, though, is the lack of geometry used in armor design. Why was it such a surprise that we eventually put v-shaped boat hulls on armored vehicles? Did our modern designers just completely disregard the successful work of their Rhodesian forebears? V-shaped hulls were part of the way they tamed the landmines employed against them to such good effect by SWAPO, ZIPRA, ZANU and assorted other acronym-happy Communist-backed insurgents.

If youve ever seen the holes an 88 would punch into a Sherman tank in WWII, it is pretty apparent that they were cold-rolling (to the best of the contemporary technology) the armor. Then came Chobham, which basically utilizes a mixture of ceramics and different metallurgy. However, a balance of materials, placement, spaced methodology and geometry is the key to a true winning formula.

When discussing armor, one would be remiss not to bring up the subject of conventional Reactive Armor. These devices are nothing more than high speed reactive chemical bombs designed to detonate upon the impact of a hypervelocity shell. It is really meant to defeat copper jet penetrating charges, be they from an RPG or another tanks main gun round.

Although not specifically part of the subject matter at hand, its worth pointing out that anyone who appreciates what may become future armor will appreciate Electro-Magnetic Armor. EMA uses electricity to defeat shaped charge warheads such as those from RPGs. Repetitive live fire testing has proven not only the theoretical properties of EMA but the actual, demonstrated ability to defeat shaped charges.

I wont digress further by discussing other intelligent but somewhat whacky ideas such as Shear Thickening Fluids. From my understanding, development along these lines has been abjectly taken out with the garbage.

There are some good principles starting to come about that I believe originated with two or three different groups at once. These have to do with spacing, which in the light seem to make good ole fashioned sense.

Since weve all heard about how much Mine Resistant Vehicles weigh, its no wonder that scientists and material engineers continue to search for the elusive mixture of this and that necessary to reduce weight and retain the capacity to stop a hypervelocity round.

The offensive and defensive races for a defense-to-offense weapon is often elusive. This is NOT because the offensive weapon cannot be defeated. It is because nobody has grasped the necessary concepts or been given the green light to go ahead in reference to the consternating weapon.

Even if the JLTV is FCS compatible (which would be a big plus), the lightweight armor will still be of concern. The DoD is even now handing out massive contracts to the JLTV producers they feel best suited to construct them, but the armor problem has yet to really be solved.

There are a couple of things that must be brought into the overall picture:

1. The weight of the MRAP has already resulted in the stranding with personnel inside until reinforcements or flyboys arrive to bail them out. Still on the weight issue, youd better have a nice paved road for the beast, otherwise you WILL be stuck in the mud or sand. These cost a MILLION USD apiece? Its worth spending money to save troops, hell yes, but can we not do better? Could we design one that would crawl over rough terrain without tipping over?

2. Whatever the incarnation of the JLTV turns out to be, it will require the real and true next-gen armor. There are better answers than what is being considered now. They must eventually come into play because the majority of WIA and KIA suffered has been, horribly, due to a lack of thinking like good ole Heinz. Far better to put them into play now.

Look, military improvisation to deal with tactical problems isn’t new to American war-making. Think about all they did when they hit the hedgerows in ’44, or take a look at the pictures of sandbags held by chicken wire to the front glacis of Sherman tanks. My point here is that we should design our JLTVs, and whatever else we’re going to go to besides the MRAPs, and make sure our troopers aren’t having to improvise in some other faraway place to keep themselves whole.

Remember, do it right the first time…

To be continued…

– Breach Bang Clear

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