In a curious ceremony in the Pentagon auditorium on Monday afternoon, a group of Pentagon bureaucrats celebrated the fact that they—in one instance, at least—overcame the natural tendency of Pentagon bureaucrats to shrink from risk.
The ceremony was officially billed as a way to mark the transfer of the MRAP Joint Program Office from the Marine Corps to the Army, and announce the establishment of an MRAP Program of Record within each of the services.
But deputy secretary of defense Ash Carter and vice president Joe Biden, who both spoke at the event, took the opportunity to slam the shortsightedness of acquisition officials and members of Congress who balked at the program in 2006 and 2007, while praising their own staffs for convincing the Pentagon to buy 27,740 of the hulking MRAPs—24,059 of which made their way to Iraq and Afghanistan—that much of the building didn’t want, at a cost $47.4 billion and climbing.
(New MRAP buys are over, but sustainment and new deployments continue, as seen by the 80 MRAPs the Army sent to U.S. forces in South Korea this fall.)
“The MRAP isn’t just any program, it is one of the most important acquisitions to come off the line since WWII,” Carter said, adding that even with all of the advances in ISR and robotics over the past ten years of war, given the life-saving realities of uparmored, v-hulled MRAPs “there was no more important program in the defense program in the last decade.”
The history of the MRAP is well known at this point: soldiers and Marines were encountering more and more deadly IEDs in Iraq, and their soft-skinned Humvees and flat-bottomed Bradleys weren’t built to withstand the blast of the buried roadside bombs. Carter admitted that troops in Iraq had repeatedly “requested urgent assistance from the Pentagon, a plea that initially went unheeded.”
One of the reasons for the institutional refusal to pivot quickly and spend time and money buying the unknown MRAP was likely a desire to protect funding and institutional momentum for the developmental JLTV and the now-cancelled Manned Ground Vehicle promised by the scuttled Future Combat Systems project.
But by 2007, the calls were impossible to ignore as members of Congress led in part by Biden were beating the drums for the MRAP, and Bob Gates took over the helm at the Pentagon, calling the fielding of MRAPs his highest priority.
The MRAP event comes as “the era of total focus on Iraq and Afghanistan – which had to be done – is coming to an end,” Carter said, and a new strategic era is dawning.” The MRAP transition is part of the larger transition.
Just six years ago, DoD planners had no idea that that would have almost 30,000 MRAPs to refit, reset, redeploy, and in some cases, divest. While Carter says that the MRAP is the most important acquisition program of the last decade, today, with 8,000 lighter M-ATVs in service; the Stryker double-V hull in production; the JLTV program chugging along; and the AMPV and Ground Combat Vehicle programs inching down the road, the MRAP just another a heavy piece of equipment with relatively limited utility that DoD planners need to figure out how to fit in to a crowded combat vehicle fleet.