Someone recently sent me a link to a discussion being held on the pros and cons of MRAPs in combat theatres.
Whereas everyone partaking contributed valuable input into the mentioned debate, it seems to me that we may have lost the plot along the way.
The MRAP (along with the older MPV) was designed and built to deliver troops to an area in relative safety from landmines and IEDs. This required the MRAPs/MPVs to have a very good cross-country ability and thereby prevent the troops from being road-bound at all times. Additionally, sappers were used to clear the roads of mines/IEDs.
The MRAP/MPV was not developed as a wheeled safety cocoon from which the troops had to fight. It was meant to be a method of delivery to a starting point for aggressive combat patrolling but it gave some protection to the troops enroute to the starting point. The standard ambush drills were very effective if coming under fire enroute to the delivery point as they allowed the troops to immediately retaliate with fire – and debus as soon as possible and fight from the ground.
The MPVs were armed with 7, 62 mm Browning MGs in order to give fire support to the dismounted infantry – not to lead the fight or hold ground. This basic principle of deployment remains as applicable today as it was in years gone by.
Wars and conflicts are won by men on the ground, implementing sound strategies with good tactics and taking the fight to the enemy. Wars have not, and will never been won by “dominating” the roads and ignoring the rest of the terrain.
Given the firepower we have allowed the enemy to amass, and the lessons we have taught him (I think it was Napoleon who said: Never fight a single enemy for too long as you will teach him all you know) we need to be able to deliver troops relatively safely and fresh to a starting point for operations.
I recall that in the old-SADF we never had the air mobility we needed to deliver a large number of troops to a specific point to commence with area operations – hence our reliance on vehicles. In this process we learnt the following:
1. MPVs/MRAPs must be standardised to allow for ease of logistical support
2. MPVs/MRAPs must be simple to maintain and operate
3. Stay off the roads where possible
4. When bound to roads, clear the roads ahead of the vehicles
5. Dismounted infantry protection teams for the sappers are responsible for locating enemy ambush positions, trip wires, electrical cables, indications of enemy movement and so forth
6. The MPV/MRAP is a delivery system and not a fighting vehicle
7. Dismount and clear defiles before passing through them
8. Avoid routine
9. Follow immediate actions drills immediately and correctly
10. Good drivers are essential
A sound doctrine for the role of the MPVs/MRAPs is essential. There are immediate action drills in case of a landmine or IED and when coming into contact with the enemy. It was these very basic drills that saved my sappers and I when we got hit by a hefty landmine in 1980. Had we not been in an MPV, we would have all been killed. Had we not followed our drills, the casualties could have been rather heavy.
The MPVs/MRAPs were never designed to be infantry fighting vehicles. They were not built to dominate terrain – that is the task of infantry – on foot. Nor were they designed as a substitute for mechanised infantry fighting vehicles. That was not their role then and it is still not their role.
Personally, I believe that most modern MRAPs are over-designed, too heavy, too complicated to maintain and have lost the edge they ought to give the infantry. Likewise, the infantry are to blame for using these vehicles for roles they were never designed for.
I also believe that the MPV/MRAP is an ideal vehicle for motorised infantry, especially in COIN operations. However, its role in conventional warfare operations can, if used correctly and within the doctrine, prove to be invaluable.
A good driver can “idle” the vehicle cross-country and get to within 15 meters of the enemy before they are even aware that it is there. By then, the infantry have long debussed and formed into an assault line with the MPV acting as a mobile fire support base. If we could do that in the 1980s, there is no reason why it cannot be done today.
I am sure the debate about MPVs/MRAPs will continue for years to come but we need to define its role, develop the doctrine for operational deployment and make sure we abide by it. If we do this, the MPV/MRAP will do what it was meant to do: save lives and reduce casualties. Furthermore, it will remain an essential vehicle able to save lives especially in areas where landmines and IEDs are used.
However, if we continue to view the MPV/MRAP as an infantry fighting vehicle and keep to the roads with a predictable routine, we surrender any advantage it can give us.