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Official says MRAPs made the difference in wars

Oct. 1, 2012 - 09:31AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 1, 2012 - 09:31AM  |  
An MRAP vehicle clears the road around Kop Ahmed camp near Kandahar city in Afghanistan.
An MRAP vehicle clears the road around Kop Ahmed camp near Kandahar city in Afghanistan. (Martin Bureau / Getty)
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WASHINGTON — Data collected from roadside explosions in Afghanistan and Iraq show troops in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected trucks are as much as 14 times more likely to survive the blast than those riding in Humvees, the Pentagon's No. 2 official told USA Today.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the newspaper that the $47 billion spent on the armored trucks has saved lives, allowed troops to gain the upper hand in fighting insurgents, and will counter the threat from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Asia where they are being shifted.

Carter is scheduled to preside at a ceremony Monday at the Pentagon to honor those responsible for building and fielding the trucks. Vice President Biden, an early supporter of the truck when he was in the Senate, is also expected to attend.

The Pentagon has offered varying statements over the years about the protection offered by the truck, whose trademark V-shaped hull helps deflect the force of roadside bombs away from the troops inside. Former Defense secretary Robert Gates, the MRAP's chief patron who credits learning about their safety from reading about them in USA Today, has said they were 10 times as safe as a Humvee in a blast and have saved thousands of lives. Another Pentagon estimate went further, putting the number of lives saved at 40,000. Since then, the military has ratcheted back, adopting Gates' estimate.

The figures cited by Carter, he said, are based on examining data from roadside blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the crater, the damaged truck and the wounds to those inside. Data have also been collected from blowing up 200 MRAPs containing dummies at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

Until late 2007, Humvees were the principal means of ferrying troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Humvee's flat, unarmored bottom absorbed the force of explosions and was labeled by the military as a "death trap" in such attacks.

"You are between nine and 14 times less likely to be killed if you were in an MRAP than if you were in a Humvee," Carter said.

Given the lack of alternatives, MRAPs make sense, said Peter Singer, director of the Brookings Institution's 21st Century Defense Initiative.

"There's a strong argument to be made that it was worth it," Singer said.

The latest MRAP model, an all-terrain version made for the rough roads of Afghanistan, has been retrofitted with armor plating for its underside and bigger wheels to raise its bottom away from bomb blasts. The new protection means the truck can withstand bombs twice as big as before, Carter said. The size of those bombs is classified.

Carter credits the trucks with allowing troops to travel freely in Iraq and Afghanistan to fight insurgents and protecting local populations. MRAPs have also been loaned to allied forces, providing them with the same level of protection American troops enjoyed and helping strengthen ties with members of the U.S.-led coalition in both countries.

Now, the Army is transferring some MRAPs to South Korea on a trial basis, Carter said. The move is in keeping with the military's shift in emphasis from the Middle East to Asia.

"It indicates first of all the IED threat, or the need for heavily armored protection is something that we're going to want to have in our tactical vehicles in future," Carter said. "Second, it's kind of a metaphor for the rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific theater."

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