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Here Come the MRAPs
"If you are strong, and you are fighting the weak for any period of time, you are going to become weak yourself."
– Dr. Martin van Creveld, military historian (1)
As the death toll climbs ever higher from increasingly sophisticated insurgent explosive devices in Iraq, the U.S. Department of Defense recently shifted its stance and raised the procurement status for its armored vehicles from an average "DO" rating to high-priority "DX" (2) to quickly build up a large fleet of MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) troop transport trucks (3).
Made of specialized armor steel with a high clearance V-shaped underbelly, the MRAP is being marketed to the American people as a necessary replacement for the vulnerable "up-armored" Humvee jeep (4) — a new vehicle to reduce the IED madness that is killing scores of American troops (5). Yet the little-known MRAP has a history, and to find its track record, one must go back in time to meet its controversial father from the Southern African Bush War: the South African "Casspir" and its variants.
Built-to-order by South Africa’s then-embattled white minority regime, the MRAP’s predecessor was armor plated, had bulletproof glass, gun ports, and a V-shaped underbelly (6). It was used primarily as the Apartheid-era warhorse to terrorize sprawling black townships (7), ferry counterinsurgency forces through landmine-infested regions of Namibia, and raid into southern Angola (8).
To the old South African government, which was sustaining an unpopular level of casualties in its foreign military campaign, the Casspir first appeared to be the solution to stanch the bloodletting, as its design deflected insurgent landmine blasts, increasing the troops’ chances for survival. According to records from the Bush War, however, Namibian insurgents soon overcame the Casspir’s armor defense through the use of rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), which unlike deflectable mine blasts from below, pierced right through the Casspir’s sides (9).
Built as a functional near-copy of the South African Casspir (10), the U.S. MRAP has similar design shortfall: it is a big target in a vicious war zone. It should be no surprise that standard RPGs are likely to render death to its numerous occupants. And to make matters worse, increasingly hostile Iraqis superseded the Namibian insurgents of the last century by mastering the use of explosively-formed-projectiles (EFPs), which cut right through vehicle armor with jets of molten metal (11). Despite such knowledge of Iraqi insurgent capabilities, the new MRAP will be used to patrol the explosive-lined roads and high-density urban canyons of Iraq, whisking troops from armed fortress to armed fortress in a military base archipelago, surrounded by an angry sea of millions that hosts a growing network of bomb-planting insurgents.
Given the above, why is the U.S. resurrecting South Africa’s Apartheid-era dinosaur a product of that nation’s doomed occupation/counterinsurgency efforts (12) to roam the deadly highways and slums of Iraq? The answer is you. Weary of the war’s rising death toll, Congress is being pressured with letters and calls to withdraw a worrying sign for those who want to keep fighting the growing number of Iraqi rebels — for reasons not adequately explained — no matter what the cost in lives and dollars. The MRAP is marketed to you as an expensive IED cure to take the pain away from delaying retreat, as it provides an aura of false security to the troops whose lives are on the line and attempts to divide the American antiwar majority into factions. Hence, the passive MRAP is really an active weapon aimed at your mind: a technological solution designed to overcome public fear and outrage. It is a rolling shield to hide behind, more for embattled politicians than for your military relatives being ordered to stay in harm’s way.
COLLIN BABER studied in Zimbabwe, has an M.A. in International Commerce, and now lives in South Korea. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
All internet sources were accessed on July 20, 2007.