From the July Foreign Affairs:
Just last week, an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal argued, “the success the Army and Marines have had with [the MRAP] shows what happens when the Pentagon throws out the bureaucratic rule book and takes on a more World War II-style business model.”
But data from the battlefield does not support the claims that MRAPs are highly effective in decreasing the number of U.S. causalities. We recently conducted a study using For Official Use Only (FOUO) Pentagon data, which the Defense Department provided in response to a research request. We found that, relative to light and unprotected tactical wheeled vehicles, those with “medium” amounts of armor plating and mine protection were highly effective at reducing the fatalities in units exposed to heavy combat. For infantry units, one life was saved for every seven medium vehicles purchased, at a total cost of around $1 million to $2 million per life saved. However, tactical wheeled vehicles with “heavy” amounts of protection, such as the MRAP (which has higher quality armor and a V-shaped hull designed to improve resistance to IEDs), did not save more lives than medium armored vehicles did, despite their cost of $600,000 apiece — roughly three times as much as the medium-protected vehicles.
Then a response, in the August edition:
To be sure, the MRAP program is a big, almost irresistible target — apparently for economists as well as insurgents. But the logic for the deployment of MRAPs, like the vehicles themselves, withstands attack. Our own research and a close look at the authors’ methodology put Rohlfs and Sullivan’s findings in doubt.
The authors claim that the $45 billion MRAP program is excessive because MRAPs “did not save more lives than medium armored vehicles did despite [costing] roughly three times as much.” This argument is suspect for several reasons. Rohlfs and Sullivan’s findings are skewed because they measure the value of MRAPs by comparing fatality rates among units that “faced similar baseline levels of violence.” But in Iraq, a baseline of violence is hard to establish: troops met all kinds of attacks – improvised explosive devices but also small groups of insurgents, snipers, and indirect fire. The greatest comparative advantage of the MRAP over medium armored vehicles is its success protecting soldiers specifically against IEDs. Aggregating all unit combat experience thus skews the data against the vehicles.
More important, in evaluating the MRAP’s effectiveness, the authors consider only fatalities and not wounded soldiers. By 2008, the casualty rate (killed plus injured) for troops in MRAPs was six percent, compared with a casualty rate of 15 percent for the M1 Abrams tank [my emphasis–Nick] and a 22 percent rate for the up-armored Humvee. In other words, up-armored Humvees are far less effective in safeguarding soldiers against IEDs. And that is no small thing: protecting soldiers is far cheaper than replacing them. It costs about $500,000 to replace an enlisted soldier and between $1 million and $2 million to replace an officer, depending on their occupational specialty. Therefore, the average light tactical vehicle with one officer and four enlisted personnel is protecting about $3 million of Defense Department funding. Moreover, the military pays billions of dollars in other long-term, casualty-related costs, including rehabilitation for the wounded and survivor benefits for the deceased.