About Defense Tech

Defense Tech examines the intersection of technology and defense from every angle and provides analysis on what’s ahead.

Tip Us Off

Tip for Defense Tech?

SEND IT!

It’s Confidential!

MRAP Edge

M-ATV Builder Oshkosh Pushes Back on DT Reports From the Field

Friday, May 28th, 2010

M-ATV builder Oshkosh, and the Marine Corps program office that manages M-ATVs, didn’t much like the story we ran the other day from our embedded correspondent Christian Lowe who reported that troops in Afghanistan are no longer allowed off base in anything but heavily armored IED-resistant vehicles. Well, they liked parts of the story.

This part where Christian reported what soldiers were telling him about the M-ATV gave them fits: “But what the M-ATVs gain in agility, they give up in protection against IEDs. Soldiers here say the M-ATV protects against roadside bombs better than an up-armored Humvee, but not much.”

We told Oshkosh that in the interests of fairness, we’d let them have their say as to the effectiveness of M-ATVs in Afghanistan. Ken Juergens, vice president and general manager of joint programs for Oshkosh Defense, emailed the following:

“The Oshkosh M-ATV meets the same government-specified survivability requirements as MRAPs in service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Troop protection is a driving force behind everything we do at Oshkosh, from design through production and aftermarket support of our vehicles. We worked with renowned armor developer Plasan North America to design and manufacture the M-ATV for outstanding survivability to protect the Warfighter in the rugged off-road and mountainous terrain that makes up Afghanistan’s battlefields.

Plasan’s battle-tested armor solutions have proven successful for multiple in-theater operations, including on MRAPs currently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, protection kits and bolt-on armor permit in-theater upgrades and repairs to meet mission demands with quick turnaround times. The M-ATV underwent government testing and delivers MRAP-equivalent protection capabilities.”

(more…)

MRAPs Take Over for Humvees Off Base

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Our own Christian Lowe is embedded with U.S. forces in Afghanistan through June 1 and sends us this dispatch from FOB Sharana in eastern Afghanistan.

By Christian Lowe

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan — In one of the most conspicuous shifts in policy since the war in Afghanistan began, local Army commanders have ordered that Soldiers must be in heavily armored IED-resistant vehicles when leaving the confines of any base in eastern Afghanistan.

Up-armored Humvees, the go-to patrol truck for troops here since 2001, have been relegated to driving within forward operating bases or were donated to the Afghan army and police.

The Pentagon is sending so-called “mine-resistant, ambush-protected” vehicles, or MRAPs, to the theater at a fevered pitch, with planeloads of the heavy trucks arriving daily at FOBs in this region.

The motor pools now feature a hodgepodge of MRAP trucks, including the Navistar International-made MaxxPro; the BAE Systems-made RG-31 Nyala; and the most recent arrival, the Oshkosh-built M-ATV.

Soldiers here say each has its advantages and disadvantages.

“I love the M-ATV,” said Staff Sgt. Philip Burchfield, platoon sergeant with 1st Platoon, Angel Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment. “It can take us places we can’t go with the MaxxPros or RG-31s.”

Battalion officials here want more of the nimble M-ATVs. Their lighter weight, lower profile and more forgiving suspension give unit commanders greater flexibility in supporting troops who have to patrol remote villages situated along roads that better support tractors and livestock than they do trucks.

(more…)

Conway Wants His Marines To Start Shedding Weight

Friday, March 26th, 2010

How do you squeeze two Marine Expeditionary Brigades onto 33 amphibious ships when in reality they require 38? You make them shed the weight they gained over the past seven years fighting on Iraq’s IED strewn battlefields, said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway yesterday in an editorial board with Military​.com.

Lifting two full MEBs with their mounds of equipment, up-armored vehicles and aircraft requires 38 amphibious ships; the current shipbuilding plan gives the Marines 33. Conway wants a return to the days when the Marines weren’t viewed as a second land army and is determined to shoehorn two MEBs onto those 33 amphibs.

Today’s Marine battalions are much heavier than the battalions Conway took cross the Kuwait border into Iraq in 2003, “heavier because we’re defending against IEDs, heavier because with a large vehicle comes a large weapons station, heavier because we’re carrying so much more communications equipment.” Marine platoons conducting distributed operations today in Afghanistan have as much communications gear typically found in a battalion, he said.

Where will the weight savings come from? He’s looking at vehicles as the main culprits in overloading his Marines, singling out the massive MRAPs and the planned Army-Marine Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program.

(more…)

US Army’s New Combat Vehicle

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

The U.S. Army is moving forward on its ground combat vehicle (GCV) program with an aggressive timeline and highly defined requirements for survivability, mobility and versatility.

The service wrapped up the last of three industry days in Michigan Dec. 3. The first, held Oct. 16 in Dearborn, presented high-level requirements and an acquisition strategy to more than 600 industry participants. The second industry day, held Nov. 23–24 in Warren, presented 325 industry participants from 247 companies with a statement of work and briefs on classified survivability requirements and a detailed acquisition schedule.

The last event targeted the government research and development community, and the requirements, acquisition, resourcing and contracting communities, according to Paul Mehney, the Army’s representative for its Brigade Combat Team Modernization (BCTM) program. Attendees were provided a detailed statement of work, a detailed schedule including major milestones and the overarching capabilities document requirements.

The BCTM helps replace the now-defunct Future Combat Systems (FCS), a multifaceted super-program that included the erstwhile Manned Ground Vehicle. The new GCV is the MGV’s successor.

“We stressed that the three most important requirements [for the GCV] are survivability, mobility and versatility,” Mehney said. “Industry has to bring us a holistic survivability solution,” to include armor, active protection systems and countermeasures. Concerning mobility, the vehicle must “have the urban mobility of a Stryker and the off-road mobility of a Bradley,” he added. The versatility piece focuses on the vehicle’s ability to accept easy upgrades post-production.

Although the Army has not placed weight or size restrictions on the future GCV, the vehicle will have to satisfy requirements that will end up dictating weight and size.

The GCV must be transportable by rail, C-17 or ship. It must hold a crew of three and a squad of nine. Additionally, there is an improvised explosive device (IED) survivability requirement and a high-level technology maturity requirement.

Read the rest of this story, read about the German plan for Afghanistan, see the inside scoop on the Kandahar mystery drone and watch the countdown to the A400M first flight from out friends at Aviation Week, exclusively on Military​.com.

– Christian

Of MRAPs, IEDs and M1114s

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

humvee-afghanistan.jpg

I participated in a roundtable interview last week with Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the deputy commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force and the on-the-ground commander (until last month) of operations in Anbar province.

It was a wide ranging discussion, but what I’d like to share with everyone here is something that bolsters my original argument about countering IEDs and looks toward the future of how we’re going to get our arms around the threat of roadside bombs in Afghanistan.

Kelly said trying to counter IEDs with high technology proved to be a never ending cycle of counter and counter-counter. First it was command detonation by wire; then it evolved into radio detonation with primitive signals such as garage door openers, then it went to cell and telephone detonation, then pressure plates, IR beams and on and on.

But in the end, what cleared the roads and wrapped up the networks were boots on the ground.

“It became an infantry, on the side of the road, going through the bushes kind of fight. The kind of fight that America has tended to stay away from because we have all of the technology. … And everything they did that we tried to defeat … they would just come up with a solution to that.“

Kelly went on to applaud the AM General M1114 Humvee, adding that the MRAP, while effective, is virtually useless off road — a virtual No Go for remote Anbar and Afghanistan.

“The 1114s are very effective, particularly from side blasts — they’re remarkably effective for side blasts. They’re weaker underneath, we all know that. So the next thing was the MRAP. The trade off with the MRAP is that it’s the best in the world at taking an under-carriage attack but it’s also a nearly useless vehicle unless you’re on a hard-surface road. Off road — even on a dirt road — you can move them maybe one or two miles per hour. Cross country they have zero ability. Are the troops protected inside, they are, and under … all circumstances that’s important — but if you’re going to surrender tactical mobility simply to keep people from getting hurt, there’s a trade-off.“

Kelly went on to say the Corps resisted the knee-jerk impulse to replace all Humvees in theater with MRAPs, since the M1114 is “actually quite good off road” and “quite good from an armor point of view,” instead replacing about half the Humvees with MRAPs.

What ultimately defeated the IED threat and saved lives? Killing the IED network with intelligence-based, targeted operations and surveillance. It’s like I started to say after my month in Ramadi in 2005: the best IED armor is a sniper team.

Kelly’s thoughts on defeating IEDs and armoring against them are even more relevant to the Afghan debate. Let’s not fool ourselves — the same gang that wanted to pull out of Iraq during the toughest time there are now in charge of the Afghan fight. We can debate the larger issues in this later, but what do you think will happen when more pictures and videos of twisted Humvee hulks and four dead Soldiers and Marines are streamed in even greater numbers than they are now back in the U.S.? The up-armoring cabal will be back on the pulpit, insisting that everyone ride in tanks or MRAPs. And predictably, many DT readers will yell at me when I point out how stupid that idea would be.

And, oh yeah, how many miles of hard-surface road are there in Afghanistan? Armored Humvees have a hard enough time weaving their way safely through the Wadis and rickety bridges. How do you think even the lightest MRAP would fare?

Well, at least Kelly and I agree — and some others (Dakota Wood) — that protection from IEDs doesn’t come from hunkering down inside a bank vault on wheels, it’s about mobility, intelligence and eyeballs. Thank goodness the Corps (and some Army units) pushed back on the MRAP hysteria, ending up on the right side of the argument after all.

– Christian

More on MRAP-ATV

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Marine-MRAP.jpg

We ran another MRAP story this morning at Military​.com that Greg Grant over at DoD Buzz previewed a few weeks ago.

The military is pressing its case for MRAP-like vehicles that are able to endure the rigors of the kind of terrain found in Afghanistan. This is a smart move on the part of the Pentagon, which is admitting that the current MRAP is a bank vault on wheels and not suited to austere environments where paved roads and structurally sound bridges are not the norm.

The interesting thing about the story though — and something I’d like your thoughts on — is the convergence of the JLTV program, the resulting protest delay and this new urgent need. To what extend is the NorGrum/Boeing/Oshkosh/Textron protest delaying or inhibiting the options for fulfilling this MRAP-ATV request? Seems to me if the players weren’t hung up in protest fights over the JLTV demonstration phase, some of them could offer variations of their JLTV ideas in the near term to the Army — but may instead defer any work on it for fear of disrupting their position in the protest deliberations.

That may be way off, but I’m curious on how that might play into it. Many argue that the tanker protests have disrupted America’s ability to wage aerial combat and operations worldwide. I think that’s a stretch. But in this case, we KNOW that lives are being lost and that something new needs to be fielded fast or more will die.

One of the potential problems the Army has not adequately addressed is that none of the MRAP vehicles are front-line vehicles, in the sense that they cannot operate in an environment approaching mid– to high-intensity combat. They can and do prove useful in stability and counterinsurgency operations, particularly in urban areas that require troops to conduct lots of presence patrols.

But in an environment where an enemy is equipped with large numbers of man-portable anti-tank weapons, of even the omnipresent low-tech RPG-7 variety, these vehicles are not survivable. They dont have the armor protection and are very big targets. While it makes sense in wartime to build vehicles tailored for specific combat environments, one has to wonder if the service has any kind of long term strategy for all these new heavily armored trucks it keeps buying.

This brings up another good point. MRAPs are good against IEDs but not so good against RPGs (I know why and where the vulnerabilities are, but won’t discuss them here). So this new ATV will have to have some of the same armor innovations manufacturers have planned for the JLTV in order to meet the requirement.

It will be interesting to see how this develops and we’ll bring you the latest as we get info.

– Christian

MRAP Sheet

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

MRAP-blast.jpg

We ran a story this morning on Military​.com about the Pentagon Inspector General report on the response by the Marine Corps to Urgent Universal Needs requests for MRAP-style vehicles. The IG posted a brief summary of its findings on the DoD web site, so take a look and assess if for yourself.

It seems to me the IG ruled on a very narrow set of factors, namely how did the Corps respond to an UNS of this nature — when hundreds of UNSs were coming in and other commanders deemed M1114 Humvees a better match for the threat vs mobility equation. The whole UNS process was new and commanders were constantly looking over there shoulder to see how much heat they’d get on their prioritization of these requests. What was more important, scope covers or thigh holsters?

Here’s what the IG said:

We recommend that the Director, Joint Staff establish procedures in Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction 3470.01, Rapid Validation and Resourcing of Joint Urgent Operational Needs (JUONs) in the Year of Execution, July 15, 2005, and that the Commanding General, MCCDC establish procedures in Marine Corps Order 3900.17, The Marine Corps Urgent Needs Process (UNP) and the Urgent Universal Need Statement (Urgent UNS), October 17, 2008, to enable Service requirements developers to forward urgent requirements that may have joint-Service applicability directly to the appropriate combatant commander for endorsement and subsequent submission to the Joint Staff for validation as a Joint Urgent Operational Need.

But I thought this line was most significant:

DoD was aware of the threat posed by mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in low-intensity conflicts and of the availability of mine-resistant vehicles years before insurgent actions began in Iraq in 2003. Yet DoD did not develop requirements for, fund, or acquire MRAP-type vehicles for low-intensity conflicts that involved mines and IEDs. As a result, the Department entered into operations in Iraq without having taken available steps to acquire technology to mitigate the known mine and IED risk to soldiers and Marines. We are making recommendations only to the Marine Corps because the scope of our audit was limited to a review of Marine Corps actions to address the IED threat. We plan to address other Services actions to counter the IED threat during future audits.

So, the IG is saying the Pentagon knew about the threat and did nothing about it? I can see this on one level but then I was there in summer of ’03 and IEDs just weren’t a threat at the time…No one was talking about them and most of the time we were rolling around Baghdad in soft vehicles without ever even thinking about mines or IEDs.
DoD IG MRAP brf

Publish at Scribd or explore others: Science

– Christian

MRAP Armor Update:

Monday, May 12th, 2008

FL_mrapdelay_101907.jpg

This was passed along to me from a source on the EFP retro-armoring for MRAPs currently in Iraq. Looks as if we have some fidelity on the numbers (and this is also posted in the comments section of the previous post, but for the benefit of those that don’t readily dive into pots of boiling oil, I cross-post it here).

From MSNBC:

Meanwhile, at Camp Arifjahn in Kuwait, the military is reinforcing some of the blast-resistant vehicles with additional side armor and it shipped as many as 20 of the newly upgraded vehicles to the battlefront in April. An additional 30 are to go into Iraq beginning this month.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Hadley, who is overseeing the upgrades in Kuwait, said not every MRAP is getting the additional armor, which increases the vehicle’s weight by as much as 5,000 pounds. The extra protection, he said, is being added to vehicles destined for hot battleground areas.

The additional armor is shipped in kits to Kuwait and installed on the MRAPs, which only recently arrived at a facility dedicated to outfitting the vehicles with antennas and equipment before being sent to troops.

An extra 5,000 pounds added to a vehicle that already weighs in at 19 tons in some cases? Ouch.

An our source tells me…

EFP protection is included as standard equipment on all improved MRAP I vehicles built as a result of the MRAP awards announced 18 Dec 2007.

Additional improved MRAP I production contracts issued after that date include the same EFP protection requirement. For example, the BAE-TVS Caiman had a further award of 1024 trucks added after that Dec 16, 2007 award.

Delivery requirements for additional armor kits for earlier fielded MRAP vehicles were added at roughly the same time.

The Army and USMC are both getting deliveries of improved MRAP I vehicles between May 2008 and Dec 2008 per the contracts I mentioned. The same applies to EFP protection upgrades for fielded MRAP vehicles.

Now we’re all spooled up. Thanks to readers and other sources for the gouge.

– Christian

EFP Armor on the Way

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

mrap-clowe-iraq.jpg

A source with inside knowledge of the issue sent me this today and I thought I’d share it with you:

Armor kits to deal with the EFP threat to MRAPs is already in production and some kits are in the shipment/installation pipeline to units in Iraq.

The problem with high tempo military operations is that those on the cutting edge will not turn in their current equipment for upgrade when the alternative is using armored Humvees while the existing MRAP vehicles are being upgraded.

Now, we’re still working on finding out what this armor could be — or do — and how many are being shipped. But this is truly an important, and intriguing, development.

– Christian

MRAPs Prove Vulnerable to Special IED

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

MRAP-row.jpg

I’d heard about this but it only recently popped up on the wires…

New Concerns After 2 Die in MRAP

The deaths of two U.S. Soldiers in western Baghdad last week have sparked concerns that Iraqi insurgents have developed a new weapon capable of striking what the U.S. military considers its most explosive-resistant vehicle.

The Soldiers were riding in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protective vehicle, known as an MRAP, when an explosion sent a blast of super-heated metal through the MRAP’s armor and into the vehicle, killing them both.

Their deaths brought to eight the number of American troops killed while riding in an MRAP, which was developed and deployed to Iraq last year after years of acrimony over light armor on the Army’s workhorse vehicle, the Humvee.

The military has praised the vehicles for saving hundreds of lives, saying they could withstand the IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, which have been the biggest killers of Americans in Iraq. The Pentagon has set aside $5.4 billion to acquire 4,000 MRAPs at more than $1 million each, making the MRAP the Defense Department’s third largest acquisition program, behind missile defense and the Joint Strike Fighter.

But last Wednesday’s attack has shown that the MRAPs are vulnerable to an especially potent form of IED known as an EFP, for explosively formed penetrator, which fires a superheated cone of metal through the vehicle’s armor.

Military officials are still trying to determine whether last week’s attack is a sign of “new vulnerabilities (in the vehicle) or new (weapons) capabilities” on the part of insurgents, said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And I know one other weapon that will slice through an MRAP “like a hot knife through butter” according to a Navy EOD tech I rode with in a JERV in Iraq, but I won’t say it here (anyone who knows MRAPs well enough will know what I’m talking about).

I guess it didn’t take long for the IED arms race to catch up with the MRAP.

– Christian