“Dear Mr. Secretary, thank you for your letter of June 27th 2011…As I noted when you were here in June you had my back throughout that time. More importantly you had our Troopers and our families’ backs throughout that time, too. You were masterful in ensuring they received the support and resources they needed, even when there was institutional resistance. As you well know we never would have gotten MRAPs, or UAVs, M-ATVs, much of the counter insurgency systems and a host of other vital enablers were it not for your determined leadership. Please accept my sincere appreciation for that leadership and for your steadfast commitment during your time as Secretary….”
General David Petraeus, July 12th 2011, in a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, by Paula Broadwell. Emphasis added.
Part I of this series looked back at the defense reform efforts of the 1980s, discussed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ rhetoric for reform of the Pentagon establishment, and exposed the continued failure to carry through on deep institutional change. In this article, the author provides a first-hand account of the origins of the MRAP vehicle from the perspective of one of the first five officers to initiate the MRAP program as we know it today. As is the case with any after-action review, knowing who initiated one of the most important new devices in DoD history, why they initiated it and how they initiated it will help officers understand technological foresight in war.
Part II: Origin of MRAPs in DoD
Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles are the largest land acquisition program in DoD history and the largest program of its kind since WWII. These vehicles were critical to the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and will likely be in service in the Army and even in the Marine Corps for the next 30 years. Rarely do we see the emergence of a toolset of this nature – a toolset on the order of the Higgins Boat, F-16, A-10, and the light armored vehicle to name a few. We should therefore understand how MRAPs came to be. Who are the real initiators of the MRAP? Success has a thousand fathers. The answer to this question will help Pentagon leaders understand disruptive technology in application. It will help us all understand the severe need for reform in what Mr. Gates referred to as the “Pentagon Establishment.”
By now we are painfully aware that MRAP vehicles were designed by the South Africans, who in the 1960s – 1970s found themselves fighting an enemy who regularly planted mines in their roads. While many label improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as a revolutionary, asymmetric development, we must realize that the South Africans faced and created a solution (MRAPs) to this problem over thirty years before we would need them. The term “IED” unhelpfully hides the fact that we should have been much more prepared for landmine warfare than we were. Landmine use has been increasing for 100 years as a cheap and easy response to the technological might of the United States and other powers. “IED” connotes something “new” and “unexpected” in warfare, whereas the historically more common term, “landmine”, is more accurate.
Keeping this in mind, we must ask why military wheeled vehicle planners at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command and the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command still had no real understanding of technological foresight even into 2007. Even in 1989, when I was a student at the Infantry Officer Course, we were aware of the superior truck design characteristics of South African vehicles.
In the early and mid-1990s, those with real foresight, like Col Wayne Sinclair USMC or COL Bill Schneck USA, published works of MRAP advocacy. Col Sinclair and LtCol Roy McGriff III USMC made a name for the MRAP in the US military in 2004. Sinclair and Schneck supported their “successor” of sorts, LtCol McGriff and his 2004-2005 leadership on MRAPs, and all of them, in turn, lent a helping hand at times to the 2006 MRAP Planning team under MajGen Anthony Jackson, GS-15 Susan Alderson, Col Gary Supnick, LtCol Joe Allena, and others, to help us finally break through the phalanx of Pentagon Establishment opposition to MRAPs.
When a recalcitrant Pentagon Establishment continued to refuse to put sufficient emphasis on MRAPs, GS-15 Franz Gayl and others drove home the importance of rapidly fielding toolsets to support the war effort in 2007-2010. This helped existing MRAP requirements get noticed, and it then helped field a variety of other toolsets useful for COIN. Everyone who really initiated MRAPs over the opposition of the Establishment has been scrupulous to avoid attention (with perhaps one exception). Despite the size and importance of the program, these innovators have not been well known. While some of the key players have been mentioned above, the list is not exhaustive.
Though the Pentagon Establishment ultimately acted as if they had the foresight to develop these new, wheeled vehicles, in reality they opposed vital lifesaving technology. As Mr. Gates stated in 2011, “Thousands and thousands of lives have been saved and multiples of that in terms of limbs." Despite this endorsement, the establishment tried to end the career of Mr. Franz Gayl – a prime driver of the program – in a systematic and deliberate attempt based in part on manufactured organizational amnesia about the 2005 MRAP requirement. After MRAP manufacturing began, incorrect testimony was given to Congress and inaccurate statements were given to the Press. Additionally, if we forget the past, we will repeat it, whether that is 3M Corporation Establishment resisting Post-it Notes, the integrated steel mills resisting mini-mill technologies until they all went bankrupt, or the Pentagon Establishment resisting some of the most useful toolsets tailored for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
MRAPs at MARCENT, 2004-2006
The MRAP program was initiated at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Forces Central Command (MARCENT). MARCENT attempted to get MRAPs approved twice. MARCENT first attempted a large MRAP program in Feb 2005 under the efforts of LtCol McGriff and LtGen Wallace “Chip” Gregson. McGriff was a War Planner in the G-4 (Logistics Branch) and Gregson was the MARCENT Commanding General at the time. A variety of specious arguments and bureaucratic maneuvers, complete with retroactive excuses, were used to drown the 2005 MRAP requirement. These kinds of bureaucratic maneuvers are common in the Pentagon today and were described by the DoD Inspector General (DoDIG) MRAP Audit of December 2008. They will be the subject of a future article.
MRAPs were re-introduced by a new MARCENT team in 2006 under MajGen Anthony Jackson, then a brigadier general and Deputy Commanding General of MARCENT. Initiation and planning phases were closely monitored until fielding began. The second time proved to be successful.
Now let’s zoom in a little closer, to understand why the second MARCENT attempt was successful. We need to take a closer look at specifically how MRAPs broke past the Pentagon Establishment gatekeepers.
MajGen Anthony Jackson said in approximately April 2006, “History will judge us on whether or not we buy this equipment for our Marines.” (Paraphrased based on author’s memory of the comments). Those words were electric when he spoke them. They marked the beginning of the end of Pentagon Establishment resistance to MRAPs, more than a year before Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would discover MRAPs on the pages of USA Today.
What drove MajGen Jackson’s conviction? He had visited Marines in Afghanistan and rode an MRAP across an anti-personnel minefield. He had been thinking about MRAPs and this experience cemented his conviction that we needed MRAPs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The driver of the MRAP was a contractor clearing old minefields from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They popped 14 anti-personnel mines on one run!
About the same time, the MARCENT Science Advisor GS-15 Susan Alderson was working on a study of casualty data by vehicle and realized the huge, statistically significant gap between the performance of legacy vehicles and MRAP vehicles when hit by a landmine. Alderson similarly developed a belief that this truck was necessary, with the same intensity as MajGen Jackson.
When MajGen Jackson returned from Afghanistan, he ordered the MARCENT staff to study MRAPs. We sensed the intensity in his voice and knew we were onto something very special. We had a sense that this MRAP effort would not be routine. From that point on, MARCENT officers working on MRAP requirements for the warfighters in Iraq had fire in their eyes. That may sound melodramatic, but we could see the impact on the war effort these vehicles could have. We would defeat the obstructionist Pentagon Establishment. We had to.
The MARCENT MRAP Planning Team, 2006
The 2006 MRAP planning team stood on the intellectual foundation and lessons learned in previous attempts to get MRAPs. The McGriff/Gregson effort of early 2005 had a comprehensive brief and we had a similarly compelling brief in May/June 2006. They had MARCENT Commander support from LtGen Wallace Gregson in 2005 and we had support from his successor, LtGen John Sattler, in 2006. They had support from the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps at the time, we had support from the Commandant of the Marine Corps (Gen Hagee). The Dec 2008 DoDIG MRAP Audit relates how the first major MRAP attempt was derailed, the following paragraphs describe how the second attempt was successful.
The main difference between the two efforts? The 2005 MARCENT MRAP effort tried to convince Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC) middle-managers to support MRAPs, while we went around MCCDC. At risk of over-simplification, they were the Greeks, philosophically advocating MRAPs almost as if logic was useful in convincing the Pentagon Establishment to change course. We were the Romans, constructing all arguments to go directly to those who could overrule the Pentagon Establishment obstructionists, and then standing guard over those requirements so they could not be deferred for study again. Every time I spoke to Quantico officials about MRAPs in 2006, it was to get information from them, not convince them. Perhaps the most important difference: the MARCENT 2005 MRAP team saw where insurgent tactics were leading and predicted the need for MRAPs based on that intelligence, as McGriff’s 2004 Future War thesis paper written at the School of Advanced Warfighting made clear in simple, unclassified prose. By contrast, we realized their predictions were correct, so we argued from actual casualty data and the obvious reality that McGriff’s 2005 foresight was accurate. More bluntly: they argued from South African casualties, we argued from actual OIF casualties. Some have suggested there is 20/20 hindsight in critiques of the Pentagon Establishment, and yet such suggestions are entirely unsupported by the data of these proceedings.
Innovation in war takes teamwork. The more important innovations in DoD history warrant study of the teams that produced those innovations. The MARCENT MRAP planning team of 2006 had three members. First, Ms. Susan Alderson was the Science Advisor for both MARCENT and I MEF, and the senior member, bringing many years’ experience in technology. Notably, she was a GS-15 willing to embrace this program when all the cultural headwinds within the Pentagon Establishment were directly against us. She has since become known as the Mother of the MRAP. The importance of her leadership on this initiative cannot be overstated. Next, LtCol Allena (then a Major) was a war planner, and had been involved with LtCol McGriff’s MRAP analysis in 2004 when they were both majors at the School of Advanced Warfighting. He had helped with the 2005 effort as well, so he served as an eyewitness link to previous attempts to get MRAPs. He brought additional intellectual continuity from McGriff and Sinclair. Finally, I led MARCENT’s new technology “Urgent Needs” program. I personally handled initiation of all of the MARCENT Commander’s top-priority projects. I had been mobilized to be a war planner liaison to U.S. Central Command’s J5 war planning team, but was quickly shifted to lead the new technology program. My background was in leading change in technology and strategic marketing projects in a variety of civilian companies. I had also studied disruptive technology and technology as a component of strategy.
The three of us were from very different backgrounds, but we came together as a team from the beginning. Alderson, Allena, and I prepared the 2006 MRAP initiation briefing that MajGen Jackson had ordered us to create. The MARCENT MRAP Planning Team began studying the problem and picking it apart in the spring of 2006. When senior leaders in Washington, D.C. stated that warriors are four to five times more likely to survive a landmine “IED” attack in an MRAP, they are quoting Alderson’s data. Just for good measure, that data was reviewed in July/August 2006 and confirmed valid by a senior thinker at the Center for Naval Analysis. We had done our homework. (Recently, Alderson received the Department of Navy's Commendation for Superior Civilian Service for her work on MRAPs, a prestigious award that is well-deserved.)
The MARCENT Chief of Staff gave us critical rudder steers on the content of our brief, and guided strategy for its presentation. In late May, at MajGen Jackson’s direction, Alderson presented a full brief on MRAPs to LtGen Sattler and MajGen Jackson. He approved this request for MRAPs and then we whittled that down to seven slides for LtGen Sattler to personally present to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Michael Hagee. And so, in July 2006, a major end-run around the Pentagon Establishment was completed when the Commandant immediately approved a major MRAP requirement. There would be very little opportunity for the USMC portion of the Pentagon Establishment to spike MRAPs under the ruse of “studying” the issue. The compelling brief grew legs and went everywhere in the senior levels of the U.S. government by September 2006.
Like Post-It Note engineers at 3M Corporation going directly to the senior executives or the Board of Directors and bypassing middle-management establishment players to create one of the most profitable technologies in 3M’s history, the MARCENT Commander effectively went around MCCDC gatekeepers and directly to the Commandant. Next, MARCENT senior staff communicated this decision to senior USMC leaders in Anbar Province, Iraq at Multi-National Forces-West (MNF-W), in July 2006. We explained that the Commandant approved a major requirement. Only with “top cover” from the Commandant was MNF-W willing to release a significant MRAP requirement. They requested an additional 1,000 MRAPs, bringing the total requirement as of July 2006 to 1,185.
Those who study military reform and the history of defense acquisition should understand that this sequence of events was the beginning of one of the most significant new technological programs of OIF/OEF. More importantly, it spelled the beginning of the end of the Pentagon Establishment’s capacity to block MRAPs. Most importantly, it worked well on the battlefield—and as we shall see, it continues to work well on the battlefield, many years after it was introduced. It did not just buy us a little time during the surge: it continues to be a useful tool even with wide adoption of COIN tactics.
Now, almost every major military in the world has an MRAP capability. They realize the truth of one of Gen James Mattis’ (the current Commander of U.S. Central Command) dictums: make yourself hard to kill.
MRAP Initiation for All Troops in Iraq, July 2006 – May 2007
One would think that if the Commandant of the Marine Corp approved MRAPs, then the USMC portion of the Pentagon Establishment would stop resisting MRAPs. Civilians or young officers might think that when a general or admiral gives an order in the Pentagon, people obey. But with technology, this is often not the case. The middle managers in DoD continue to do what they want, to use their knowledge of red tape to oppose the will of general officers. Events covered in this period, July 2006 through May 2007, address some of the MARCENT actions taken within U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) to make sure MRAPs were not blocked again, and to get MRAP requirements for all warfighters in Iraq.
We sought to get MRAP requirements approved by the Navy component of CENTCOM, NAVCENT (for Naval Construction Battalion “SeaBees” in Anbar). We also sought to get MRAP requirements approved for soldiers in MNF-W and Multi-national Divisions Baghdad and North. May is chosen as an end-date for this period because by May, the House Armed Services Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the Secretary of Defense took up the mantle and decided that all MRAP requirements should be funded. It should also be noted that MARCENT actions taken below are only those actions that be described in an unclassified journal.
To understand actions taken in MARCENT’s MRAP Initiation Program during the second half of 2006, one must first understand judgments made about what had happened in 2005. Our study of what happened to the McGriff/Gregson MRAP initiative of 2005 revealed that the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps and the MCCDC Commander supported a major MRAP requirement in late March 2005. This occurred at the March 2005 annual Executive Safety Conference, as has been confirmed by the DoD Inspector General MRAP audit of Dec 2008, page 10: “The Executive Safety Board minutes stated that the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps favored procuring mine-resistant vehicles.”
My 2006 study of MCCDC’s “analysis” of the McGriff/Gregson initiative in 2005 made it obvious that it was a Pentagon Establishment hatchet job. It proved that no logic would convince the Pentagon Establishment to change course with wheeled vehicles. It was clear that MRAPs had been tabled by the Quantico staff in 2005, a conclusion that would be obvious to all of Washington, D.C. by the time that the House Armed Services Committee entered the PP&O Science Advisor’s MRAP Case Study of Jan 2008 into the Congressional Record. And it was made obvious again when the DoD Inspector General MRAP audit was published in December 2008.
To some who are less familiar with these events, this may sound like unnecessary “who shot John” retroflection. Yet some in the Pentagon Establishment have been providing conveniently skewed histories of these events, like the Kelsey Grammer character in the movie “Pentagon Wars.” GS personnel in the USMC portion of the Pentagon Establishment cannot be permitted to retroactively create convenient histories that dovetail with their desire to maintain control of the levers of device initiation.
Study of the 2005 events illustrated that the Pentagon Establishment has the capacity to use knowledge of the bureaucracy to effectively overrule even general officers. Clayton Christensen in his 1997 book, the Innovator’s Dilemma observed that organizational establishments systematically fight change. Three decades earlier Col John Boyd observed the same thing. For example, Col Burton’s book Pentagon Wars describes how Boyd had a green light from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force to build the F-15, but he realized that was not enough. He had to convince many subordinate constituencies within the Air Force. Permanent personnel in government are often more powerful than transitory senior leaders.
I became the lead officer for the MARCENT MRAP initiative July 2006 through March 2007. This was the only comprehensive MRAP initiation effort in all of CENTCOM. The program’s first goal was to make sure MRAPs did not get “tabled” in Quantico, as they did in 2005. As 2006 progressed the MARCENT MRAP initiative quietly expanded the scope to include all CENTCOM troops in Iraq, not just those in Anbar. Informal support to Special Operational Command (SOCOM) MRAP initiatives was also provided.
It became clear in the summer of 2006 that the Marines would ask for only 805 MRAPs in the 29 Sep 2006 Supplemental Appropriations Act. This only took care of the USMC portion of the initial Joint requirement for 1,185 MRAPs, a number that was almost identical to the 1,169 MRAPs requested in Feb 2005. The Navy and Army had not yet funded MRAP requirements for SeaBees in Anbar, Soldiers in Anbar, or Soldiers in the rest of Iraq. With a significant USMC MRAP requirement it seemed that a camel-in-the-tent strategy would result. But it seemed best to speed up the process, given the monthly casualty reports: many lives were depending on how well MARCENT officers fought all the bad ideas that were dominant in the Pentagon Establishment.
In mid-July 2006 we could not risk the Pentagon Establishment spiking MRAPs in 2006 the way they had in 2005: it became increasingly clear throughout 2006 that we needed to keep the pressure on and coming from multiple directions. We needed insurgent tactics against the Pentagon Establishment. “Insurgency” is precisely how Burton and Coram described Boyd’s first application of maneuver warfare in the Bradley Fighting Vehicle testing fiasco (where the liars got promotions and the men who refused to accept dishonest testing got thrown out of the military).
In Sep 2006 I briefed officers at Headquarters, U.S. Navy Component Central Command (NAVCENT). NAVCENT endorsed MRAPs for Naval Construction Battalion and the Navy quickly funded the MNF-W requirement for SeaBees by early November 2006. Even though vehicles would be distributed to Marines, Soldiers, or SeaBees on the basis of operational requirements—not what Service was “paying” for the MRAP—no Service had yet funded the MNF-W requirement for soldiers in Anbar Province, the most dangerous area of Iraq at the time. This meant the overall MNF-W requirement would be far short. So, the focus of effort of MARCENT’s MRAP program shifted to persuading Army warfighters to consider MRAP requirements. All of these requirements existed primarily in the Joint channels, so people in the Pentagon Establishment could not as readily defeat them as they could in 2005, when MRAP requirements were primarily in Service channels.
In July-December 2006, a series of briefings with many CENTCOM officers were given in Tampa, Iraq, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. These briefings were designed to spread the case for MRAPs widely, and to get the Army warfighters to weigh in on the MRAP program. For example, Task Force Troy (the task force charged with defeating IED networks) was approached twice with the MRAP requirement. At least twice, CENTCOM J8 officers were requested to forward the Marines’ MNF-W requirement to Army troops in Multi-National Division-Baghdad (MND-B) and Multi-National Division-North (MND-N), so that they could decide whether they could use MRAPs, too.
Officers at Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) and Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) were briefed about MRAPs for Army warfighters. By the end of 2006, ARCENT (the Army component of CENTCOM) decided all soldiers in Iraq should have MRAPs, and due to the leadership of Gen James Amos and Gen James Mattis, MARCENT increased its MRAP requirement on 18 Dec 2006 from 1,185 to approximately 3,700. Later, the USMC Service requirement was scaled downward to 2,225 for Iraq, and then it increased for Afghanistan when M-ATV’s were added to the inventory.
And so we see the debunking of a myth: MRAP did not spring forth out of whole cloth from Congress. Quite the contrary, Congress responded to the efforts of officers in CENTCOM and its warfighters to get MRAPs when they became aware of those requirements. This in turn opened up additional opportunities for retooling. In addition to MRAPs, we advocated other toolsets of war such as unmanned aerial systems and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technologies that have doubled in use almost every year since.
By the end of 2006, almost every major subordinate command within CENTCOM had approved an MRAP requirement. The MARCENT MRAP program’s attempt to get MRAPs for all soldiers in Iraq had gone as far as it could go: MRAP funding for Soldiers in Anbar and funding for Soldiers in MND-B/N would have to be accomplished at the political level. The House and Senate Armed Services Committees would leverage the Marines’ and Navy’s requests for funding of MRAP requirements to force Big Army to establish their official MRAP requirement and request MRAPs for their soldiers, too…and thus put their sacred cow, Future Combat Systems, at risk.
Afterward, I never found any analysis that suggested Surge Planners were also focusing on technological aspects of counter insurgency. On one level, this was understandable. Surge advocates like Gen Jack Keane and Dr. Eliot Cohen could not simultaneously initiate the surge and take on the deeply entrenched technology establishment of Big Army and the USMC portion of the Pentagon Establishment. Frankly, I doubt any of them had any technological foresight for tools tailored for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the fact that Dr. Eliot Cohen realized that emphasis on technology was a common trait of senior civilian leaders in wartime. Unhelpfully, one surge planner, retired General Barry McCaffrey, was quoted as saying “[MRAPs are] the wrong vehicle, too late, to fit a threat we were actually managing.” Almost every day since those words were printed, a Soldier, Marine, Sailor, or Airman has been saved from a landmine attack because they were in an MRAP. Thankfully, Mr. Gates did not take this advice.
The USMC portion of the Pentagon Establishment gave us zero foresight, zero leadership and only minimalist approval of 805 vehicles. Yet, from Big Army, the MRAP program saw even greater opposition even into 2007.
By the end of 2006, MRAPs became like a 350-pound pulling lineman, breaking the phalanx of Pentagon Establishment control over the levers of device initiation. They would quickly try to re-establish power, but the balance of power had shifted.
In terms of the Boydian OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, a simplified construct of maneuver warfare theory), they could not take observations from the warfighter and wrap them up in red tape as easily. They had to begin orienting, deciding and acting on information flows from creative thinkers on the battlefield. The MARCENT prioritization and the program records being kept and regularly published prevented the Establishment from delaying and ignoring urgent new technologies as easily as they had been able to do previously. Prior to 2006, officers would sometimes get busy and lose focus on urgent new requirements they had submitted. Since then, several officers began watching unrelentingly. An audit eventually revealed that MCCDC had the responsibility to maintain the urgent needs program in a transparent manner and MCCDC was required to build a piece of software to maintain visibility of the end-to-end process. COIN toolsets began to get a seat at the table.
A number of Marine officers collaborated with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force (REF), an organization created to give the Army a kind of rapid maneuver they evidently did not have at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command or their Tank and Automotive Command (TRADOC/TACOM). The REF officers did excellent work and through the years I have made a point to visit them and learn from them in my travels in Iraq and Afghanistan. We used the MRAP program’s success to support a prioritized list of brilliant ideas coming from the warfighter, and then we used that success to advocate maneuver warfare doctrine for the support establishment.
By early 2007, it was clear that the enemy would try hard to kill us in these new vehicles. It was also clear that there would be a political conflagration between Congress and the Pentagon Establishment. We had started MRAP “fires” in the form of many official Urgent Needs documents and in the minds of many, many officers within CENTCOM. We knew those fires would jump the Pentagon Establishment firebreaks.
As I demobilized in early 2007, I replayed the entire MRAP initiative in my mind—the data, and the tactics, again and again—questioning our assumptions. How could the enemy in Iraq repeatedly and consistently defeat MRAPs (when used as a part of COIN tactics)? I was worried—had we done enough? Had we thought through the problem? Did we miss something? The enemy had cut through each HMMWV innovation to keep our casualty rates relatively constant. When you are not winning a counter-insurgency fight, you are losing. We were in a race against time: Congress was losing patience. Would the enemy cut through MRAPs like they cut through all those HMMWV retrofits? Soon enough the Secretary of Defense personally answered those questions; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would answer those questions; and battlefield results that were recently made public would leave no doubt.
To illustrate the residual strength of the Pentagon Establishment, by the end of 2006 almost every Commander in CENTCOM and SOCOM had approved major MRAP requirements. And yet Mr. Gates still did not find out about MRAPs until May 2007 (he repeated that assertion at least four times in four years). He rapidly made it the Pentagon’s #1 priority program for steel and other resources. The very people who have now been resoundingly repudiated for casting stones at Mr. Gayl’s career cannot explain why Mr. Gates had to find out about MRAPs from a newspaper—instead of from his own senior leaders in the Pentagon.
We will never learn from our mistakes in DoD if we do not have the courage to admit them. As with the Bradley Fighting Vehicle testing fiasco 30 years ago, those responsible for blocking MRAPs keep their jobs, get promotions and awards for alleged “foresight” even as those who had the moral courage to advocate MRAPs, in 2007, 2006 and earlier, are sidelined marginalized or even attacked. This is not behavior of a learning organization.
About the Author(s)
After reading the article by Col Jankowski I realized I knew most of, if not all of, the players mentioned in it and that I was a witness to most of the events he describes. I saw many of those people express the same indignation that you describe in your comment. Their indignation has its origins in the answers they received from the supporting establishment about a proposal that they, and most everyone else I knew at the time, thought was a perfectly reasonable response to a serious tactical problem, deaths in Iraq caused by IEDs. The answers ranged from the ridiculous, "Marines are used to doing without", to insulting comments Like Vit’s “We have a generation of officers that believes if they whine loud enough, the system will just cough up usable solutions as if by magic - and this is the hubris of a large and well-funded military, not the "reformed" maneuver warriors who couldn't do an analysis of alternatives, because the idea of tradeoffs is against their religion.” I am lead to understand by Col Jankowski’s article, and other accounts I have been made aware of, that the fight to get the MRAP fielded was long and bitter with more than a few careers ended over the issue. I think that the indignation toward what is perceived as an unresponsive supporting establishment will persist until the problems that were exposed by the MRAP acquisition event are addressed and resolved. Wouldn’t you agree?
I could offer my own observations about military acquisition- the bottom line being that there are too many that are more concerned with the process (and other more nefarious things) than with what soldiers need.
I would offer this, however, as a counterpoint to the MRAP subject: I wonder why we didn't critically question the need for the capability from the Doctrine part of DOTMLPF. Why we need to run around a country in mini-wheeled firebases in a COIN fight is beyond me.
I'll never forget being in Afghanistan in 2007 and trying to help get our forces an exception to the FRAG Kit 5 requirement due to the impossibility of traveling in some areas with that much weight and size. People laughed at the MRAP requirement for Afghanistan back then.
When I came back in 2010 I'll never forget a LTC telling me that he would not travel with his Afghan counterpart from Kabul to Gardez without a three MRAP convoy because that was the policy. Never mind that his counterpart was traveling in pickup trucks and used speed and OPSEC as his FORCEPRO along with a unit reputation for wiping out any enemy that dared to attack them.
Dominating the high ground, staying in the area for more than a few hours, getting out of vehicles and out on foot, engaging the locals- these all seemed to be things we said, but didn't do. Running around the country in FRAG Kit 5 or MRAPs might have saved lives vice light-skinned pickups- but I don't see the strategic advantage of running around the country at all and the fact that most of our Afghan allies don't use MRAPs (not to mention the enemy) makes me wonder about our critical thinking when faced with problems (in this case- IEDs).
<i>So an anonymous commenter tells me I'm imagining things I saw with my own eyes over a five-year period and another anonymous commenter says I'm preachy? That's a good one. Perhaps my confidence in technological foresight comes from having displayed foresight when the chips were down.</i>
I can’t vouch for Vit: Strength and Power. “Move Forward” was a response to someone named “Backwards Observer.” My fear is that unlike the more tech-accepting Navy and USAF, historians populating the Army often appear to focus excessively on the past instead of the future. A background peon such as myself wishing to continue working towards that future may find himself unemployed when opining one man’s version of “truth” to historian power.
As a prior military combat developer, past doctrine writer, FCS training developer, and UAS trainer, my military and lowly contractor experiences lend some credibility. I note you like to name names. Becoming personally famous/infamous is irrelevant. Don’t blame us backgrounders for trying to make viable concepts work, hoping to keep naysayers and luddites from stopping progress.
In many cases, blogs like this get the word out to inform senior leaders and get them thinking. As you mentioned, Sec Gates read about MRAPs in an article. I can’t recall where I read about the conversation between Sec Gates and Gen Casey where there was a failure to convey that counter-IED kits were under development. Both getting and not getting the correct message out can have large consequences.
<i>Instead of asking me a 1991 air-war tactics question, perhaps you should be asking the question VAdm Art Cebrowski asked the Air War College perhaps 10 years ago: what are our tactics going to be when the bullet flies 186,000 miles per second? When the fighter pilot is no longer in the airplane, thus drastically increasing the # of Gs the fighter can pull?</i>
My humble response would be that fighter pilots should fear long range threat missiles that get better all the time. “Promising” threat lasers with power source and beam-spread problems are less likely to acquire, lock onto, and destroy stealthy, fast-moving and maneuvering high altitude fighters launching stand-off munitions from many miles away. Based on 747-based demonstrators, long-range laser weapons are less next-waritis and more Star-Warsitis.
Maintaining a data link to control that 10g fighter UAS has its own challenges. Eventually, the US may be able to send a radar-embedded message from a two-seat F-35-based F/A-XX to an optionally-manned F-35C (whose pilot is now in the backseat of the F/A-XX) to fire several AMRAAMs at approaching targets and then take a programmed evasive action to a new waypoint prior to remotely launching a JSOW at a positively-identified threat cruiser.
<i>To the other officers in the Disruptive Thinker series of articles: see the problem with Pentagon Establishment thinking? I'm talking with anonymous commentors whose musclebound thinking is so acute they cannot seem to understand what I'm saying.</i>
No Pentagon Establishment thinking resident here. My sole handicap is discerning the facts from your inexplicable anger. With past and future medical doctors in the family tree and a Hudson School for Boys and Girls diploma, I’m sorry if you consider my thinking musclebound…though I do bench 300 on a machine at my advanced testosterone-deprived age.
The Pentagon Establishment termination of FCS and EFV solves little in the long term. No simple MRAP-like solution exists to the need for medium Army and Marine forces that are deployable and sustainable in the face of A2/AD strategies over extended intertheater (not adjacent Gaza or Lebanon) distances. Lethality and survivability, and an ability to detect and suppress hybrid threats remain essential requirements.
Winning the current war shouldn’t detract from or extend the process of planning/developing/funding future conflicts and deterrence. Existing threats are clear if not evident in current wars. Future threats are just around the corner as headlines attest.
The title was Carl’s, not mine. Kudos to literature major Carl Prine for publishing it despite being skeptical. You might expect anyone lacking a math and tech background to reject disruptive thinking if they did not fully understand the technology’s feasibility. Noting your technology and math background, I’m wondering what your alternative non-MRAP proposed solution is for Army and Marine entry and land combat in the face of A2/AD and G-RAAM strategies.
<i>As for the $50B, I say again: the choice was not between MRAP and JLTV. The Operating forces live in the real world, not the Pentagon Establishment world. The choice was between $50B casualties and $50B MRAPs and $50B JLTV…..Why should the SGLI risk pool pay for the Pentagon Establishment's desire to have the JLTV over the MRAP?</i>
Ah, the math major being logical. When you field 20,000 MRAPs (why so many Army ones?) at a cost of nearly $50 billion (according to DefenseNews.com), legislative and military leaders may ask why you can’t use those big behemoths (with many unique models) instead of the smaller, more capable, and single-version JLTV.
Likewise General Shinseki’s interim Stryker force proved that a common vehicle makes sense (unlikely with heavy GCV), but his planned FCS manned ground vehicle successor never was fielded. Poor execution of a valid requirement does not eliminate the requirement.
The risk of the hurry-up, rapidly-fielded compromises is that systems capable of handling larger threats never get fielded and another Pearl Harbor or Task Force Smith occurs. I would offer that there is an alternative acquisition model you may consider. It is found in the vastly under-advertised but well-performing Gray Eagle program that is under-spending original projections considerably while deploying to theater to assist current warriors.
The risk is that because so much was spent on winning in Iraq and Afghanistan, seekers of a “peace dividend” will ask why we need Army Gray Eagles when we have USAF Reapers and Predators? My unsolicited but offered response would be that:
• The USAF wants to replace all its Predators with larger and more costly Reapers
• With Predators seeking SCUDs in OIF I, Army divisions advanced on Baghdad with only limited Hunter UAS support. Ten years later, the Army has over a million UAS hours on systems unavailable in 2001 or 2003.
• Gray Eagle resembles a Predator but carries up to four Hellfires, other sensors and communications systems, is much more automated, and has a 1300+ lb higher max gross weight
• Gray Eagle uses enlisted operators and primarily warrant officer and NCO leaders meaning a larger percentage of USAF remotely piloted vehicle pilots could be in the Guard and Reserve since they fly from stateside
• Gray Eagle crews and GCS deploy alongside directly supported Army brethren to better understand and habitually support brigades within the division AOR, relieving satellite bandwidth (and availability) constraints, and performing both information collection and lethal missions that shorten the kill chain
• The Army also wants to field the Apache Block III based on current war lessons, and Block III can receive video from, cross-cue with, and control Gray Eagle’s sensors...manned-unmanned aircraft teaming.
Some say current UAS cannot survive radar air defenses and fighter threats. That is why an effective stealth kick-in-the-door Joint fighter capability is so important to destroy air defenses to enable larger signature wing stores-installed operation such as in 1991 and 2003? Reapers, Global Hawk/BAMS, and Gray Eagles then can join the fight as well. However, in the long lead into any conflict, these UAS will certainly do yeoman’s work in yielding indications and warnings from offshore stand-off.
Still think we are an opposite sides of the acquisition issue? Never said MRAPs were not necessary. The indignation is what bugs me.
"Care to venture how many seconds an A-10C or AC-130 would survive against modern radar ADA or air-to-air missiles?"
So an anonymous commenter tells me I'm imagining things I saw with my own eyes over a five-year period and another anonymous commenter says I'm preachy? That's a good one. Perhaps my confidence in technological foresight comes from having displayed foresight when the chips were down.
"Move Forward", what makes you think that because a truck or a set of ground-based and airborne persistent ISR cameras helped in one type of war, nation building, that question has any bearing on anyone's understanding of air war tactics that have been in-use since the Air War in 1991? Presuming to ask a rhetorical question such as this strikes me as Pentagon Establishment condescention toward those of us who want to win a current war we are in, over preparing for a potential future war we are not in. After Afghanistan, let's go back to an all-around posture, prepare for a Blue Service war as best we can, and by all means, if we get in a Blue Service war, let's buy more Blue Service toolsets. I would not want to take A10s, C130s or MRAPs against Air Defense by themselves, either. I'd want to do at least as well with air tactics as was done in 1991.
Instead of asking me a 1991 air-war tactics question, perhaps you should be asking the question VAdm Art Cebrowski asked the Air War College perhaps 10 years ago: what are our tactics going to be when the bullet flies 186,000 miles per second? When the fighter pilot is no longer in the airplane, thus drastically increasing the # of Gs the fighter can pull?
To the other officers in the Disruptive Thinker series of articles: see the problem with Pentagon Establishment thinking? I'm talking with anonymous commentors whose musclebound thinking is so acute they cannot seem to understand what I'm saying.
As for the $50B, I say again: the choice was not between MRAP and JLTV. The Operating forces live in the real world, not the Pentagon Establishment world. The choice was between $50B casualties and $50B MRAPs and $50B JLTV. Cry me a river that we won the war in Iraq and gave ourselves a chance in Afghanistan, and in the process delayed JLTV. Two KIA in a legacy vehicle cost $400,000 in SGLI each, equal to the cost of the MRAP they would have been riding in if they had one. Why should the SGLI risk pool pay for the Pentagon Establishment's desire to have the JLTV over the MRAP?
Since you are so concerned about money, what is the cost to the American Taxpayer...what is the present value of future cash flows via the VA Hospital System for two VSI in a HMMWV hit by a landmine? Is that equal to two MRAPs? Four MRAPs? If we had stayed on a casualty path to equal that of the Korean War, when would Congress have cut-off funding? What would be the strategic cost of losing the Iraqi War? A war costing $9B/month that ends four months earlier because we went all-in pays for all the MRAPs. Now do you see why Mr. Gates, Congress, Gen Petraeus and Gen Mattis were pleased with the MRAP program, even though they are terribly inflexible for traditional, state-on-state warfare. You can look to the strategic costs associated with losing the Vietnam War as a model for the additional Billions it costs to lose a war.
TJ, a bit too preachy, IMHO.
The MRAP and specifically the M-ATV did wonders as interim solutions for the JLTV. The JLTV is a great replacement for armored HMMWVs in airborne, light, air assault, and other elements at a fraction of M-ATV costs. MRAPs are unsuitable except as engineer route clearance and survivable signal node vehicles. They saved numerous lives to be sure. For that reason and the lessons learned they were critical, and they certainly helped our truck industry at a crucial economic time. However, $50 billion in sunk costs for larger MRAPs also present an unsustainable logistics and deployment cost for future units and are unable to move off-road or deal with hybrid threats shooting at its sides.
Likewise, double V-Hull Strykers are an effective interim medium force. However, they still lack firepower and protection. They remain a small fraction of the larger IED and ATGM/RPG-29-vulnerable Stryker fleet. Like MRAP, they are largely road-restricted and the extra V-Hull weight only exacerbates that issue. The FCS vehicles you discount would have solved the off-road problem while providing far greater protection and firepower. Unfortunately, General Casey must not have realized when Secretary Gates noted that FCS vehicles did not seem to address the IED problem that a counter-IED belly kit was under development.
Now we see efforts to replace Bradleys with a 50-70 ton GCV. How does that solve the need for a survivable, deployable, and lethal medium force? It may be essential to counter those hybrid threats in the one or two armored BCTs that might actually deploy in future conflicts. But let's recognize that the future lies primarily in lighter and medium Army forces. We have ample solutions to dealing with enemy armor that mistakenly masses, and few countries have ample armor these days for that very reason exemplified in Desert Storm and OIF 1.
The EFV would have solved part of the problem of getting Marine brigades to shore, fighting effectively once there. But it failed to address the added ship stand-off required by A2/AD threats and the IED threats on beaches and inland. It was too complex to be sure, in its attempts to reach higher water speeds. However, no other slower compromise AAV replacement will solve the ship-standoff problem. LCAC/ship-to-shore connectors use lots of well space, and also are huge targets still vulnerable to mines and direct/indirect fires. So like FCS, what solution constitutes an effective deployable, sustainable medium force with firepower and survivability?
Difficult problems require more than hurry-up, compromise solutions. FCS bit off more than it could chew and allowed civilian contractors and the armor center (MCOE or CAC might have done better) to run FCS. In all fairness, it was too big to succeed. It failed in many areas of thinking ground forces would always "see first" allowing fewer engineers and security forces. The same folks pushing that angle unfortunately now push the A2/AD angle as a "revolutionary" workaround perceiving that air and seapower will always "see first" and be able to find and bomb deeply buried, tunneled, and civilian hugging targets that don't want to be found.
Finally, no correlation exists in your attempt to compare MRAPs to simple A-10 or F-16 solutions (or FCS or EFV), implying future simple jets could withstand current and future air defense and stealth fighter threats. Several ground attack Russian Su-25s and a non-stealthy bomber target were downed in Georgia, in many cases by apparent friendly air defense fire. How would more F/A-18E/F and F-16s fare against J-20s, the other newly revealed Chinese stealth jet, and Russian T-50s not to mention the most modern air defenses? Care to venture how many seconds an A-10C or AC-130 would survive against modern radar ADA or air-to-air missiles?
Thanks for the comments, they illustrate the divide between those who uncritically accept legacy technology projects and uncritically accept legacy technology methods, and those of us who want to help the Pentagon adopt more modern methods.
My "imagination" that reformers' ideas were useful in the situations highlighted in this series is based in large measure on the Secretary of Defense personally taking charge of programs like ubiquitous MRAPs and ubiquitous UAS, and asking for reform-minded officers to recommend reform. The notion that reformers' recommendations are useful is also based in enthusiastic endorsement of those programs by the troops and by the U.S. Congress.
Calling this hagiography does not make it so. How many Colonels, Generals got awards for their leadership on EFV and FCS before they were cancelled? Isn't that hagiography--"You're good, I'm good, we're all good"?
You really want to defend EFV, FCS? EFV was started in the 1970s. Perhaps that piece of innovation would have been delivered within a 60-year time frame. $15B in dev costs for a vehicle program?
Thanks for bringing up the cost argument implicitly, by talking about the 10-year setback. Without the innovations discussed in this series we would have spent that money anyway: We would have had casualties in Iraq, Afgh approaching that of the Korean War, and the cost of those casualties would exceed the cost of the MRAPs and UAS. You really want to pay that cost in lives instead of in MRAPs, etc? I'll be teaching the Pentagon Establishment about cost accounting later in this series.
As for strategy, we never would have needed MRAPs if we'd flooded Iraq with troops, and not disbanded the Iraqi Army, and kept the bathists who knew how to run the infrastructure running the infrastructure. Once those decisions were made, (the surge was not much more than a 5% variation off the peak), we chose a solution that required a greater technological component.
You suggest in your comment that it was somehow a failure of military leadership to push for and receive equipment that would give our forces the edge on the enemy. Adapting technology to a situation and overcoming logistical obstacles are military virtues. The MRAP saved lives in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it also increased operational effectiveness. If the MRAP is no longer useful than melt them down and create something else of greater use. If anything I would think that our experience with MRAP acquisition would drive us to developing just in time manufacturing technologies. In fact it is probably an imperative that we do develop just in time manufacturing technologies so that we can keep pace with the battle field innovations being introduced by those hostile to the United States. I am interested to read what you would have done to protect your personnel if you were in the same position as MNF-W / I-MEF (FWD) was during 2006 in Iraq.
This is the sort of hagiography that feeds the illusions of military "reformers", who imagine that their expert opinions are the best, but some ill-defined "establishment" motivated by politics and greed, refuses to listen to the truth. Not so.
For many years, in both the Army and the Navy, mine warfare got short shrift at the acquisition banquet. In due time, the Army nearly got the Grizzly to production, only to see the program cancelled for not-very-sound reasons. Of course, Grizzly was a conventional countermine system designed to deal with a conventional mine threat. Good and honorable people, some of them my friends worked to bring that capability to fruition - but it has become the regretable fate of the heavy force to become the full-blooded redheaded stepchild of DoD, good for abusing, even when it takes on the Cinderella tasks it is assigned, and performs them with excellence.
So, the MRAP-mongers would have us believe that no other DOTLMPF combination could ever, would ever do what MRAP did at such cost and disruption to the acquisition process. And so, not only is Grizzly a dead program, but also EFV and FCS. Indeed, the impact of the MRAP's famous V-shaped hull has been to set back ground force combat vehicle modernization by at least ten years. This is hardly an achievement to be celebrated by anyone, and it gives the warfighter the wrong impression as to what the capabilities and limitations of the acquisition system really are. Could the presence of the Grizzly in Iraq or Afghanistan have made a difference ? Only with leaders willing to adapt form to function. Instead, we have a generation of officers that believes if they whine loud enough, the system will just cough up usable solutions as if by magic - and this is the hubris of a large and well-funded military, not the "reformed" maneuver warriors who couldn't do an analysis of alternatives, because the idea of tradeoffs is against their religion.
And so now we have hundreds of MRAP vehicles that no one knows what to do with. No doubt, there is value in hardening the tail, which would in fact also apply to the conventional battlefield. People who overemphasize the COIN "fight" will never get the point that systems need to be designed for full spectrum operations, not just changed out for each individual scenario and theater of war. Just the Grizzly would have been "overkill" in a counter-IED role, the MRAP must prove its utility in scenarios other than just driving a convoy down the road, to be ambushed where and when the enemy chooses.
And so the deeper question is not whether the MRAP saved lives, but why this Army and this Marine Corps have so little grasp of tactics, of the dynamics of combat development, of the importance of imposing one's will on the foe (as opposed to dancing to the enemy's tune) that the MRAP became a miracle material solution, an indispensible system. So much for adjusting doctrine, tactics, training and leadership in preference to material solutions. How is this different from the evil Pentagon military-industrial complex, which has nothing but money and materiel to throw at the problem ?
A remarkable inside look at how the DOD design and procurement process works in practice. It is disturbing to note the USMC is not immune from the same staff infections that afflict the USAF and U.S. Army. The late Colonel John Boyd (USAF ret.), whose OODA loop is referenced in Part II of this series, fought similar battles.
I am recommending this series to as many folks as possible.