The story really begins in Iraq several years ago, when insurgents first began using home-made roadside bombs against the High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or Humvee, the main vehicle the troops were using.
“MRAPs are lifesavers,” says Assistant Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
But, he explains, the MRAPs did not work so well in Afghanistan.
“The terrain in Afghanistan is different from Iraq, it’s more uneven, the roads are less easy to traverse. And for that reason, we’ve had to create an all-terrain version of the MRAP,” he said.
The challenge for designers was to create a vehicle with the protection provided by an MRAP but about 25 per cent lighter. And so, an acronym within an acronym was born the M-ATV, or MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle.
“This vehicle here will similarly be a lifesaver in Afghanistan,” he added.
And the US military needs a ‘lifesaver’ in Afghanistan. American casualties have jumped from fewer than 40 per month until June of this year, to 70 or more every month since then. Officials say like in Iraq, the main killers are roadside bombs.
“It has a lot more survivability than other vehicles that are in Afghanistan right now, a great deal more. Believe it or not, it’s very easy to drive. So it’s a wonderful vehicle and it’s going to be a lifesaver,” he said.
Although smaller than the MRAP, the M-ATV is still an imposing vehicle, half-again as tall as the average person and weighing in at 18 metric tons.
They look like an extra-large version of the World War Two jeep, but enclosed, with small blast-proof windows, a protected machine gun position on top and a variety of high-tech gear inside and out. The US military is buying more than 6000 of the M-ATVs, at a cost of nearly a million and a half dollars each, including all their equipment, spare parts and transportation to Afghanistan. US officials say other countries with troops in Afghanistan want to buy some of the vehicles, too.
“This is really designed to get us off the road network, to be able to go cross-country, to go the places that up-armoured HUMVEEs go, not be stuck to the road network, which makes us predictable,” he said.
General Brogan says because of some technical innovations M-ATVs are not nearly as cumbersome as MRAPs, but rather are almost as manoeuvrable as the much lighter and more lightly armoured Humvees, even in the sands of Afghanistan.
“The tires are larger than you would find on a HUMVEE, so the ground pressure, which is really what matters, isn’t all that much different from an up-armoured HUMVEE,” said Brogan.
For security reasons, officials will not say how large a bomb the M-ATVs can withstand. But they expect the arrival of hundreds, and eventually thousands, of the vehicles in Afghanistan will help reverse the trend of US casualties, and will enable the troops to travel safely throughout the country.
Pic: M-ATV vechicle