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The MRAP Boondoggle
CHRIS ROHLFS is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Syracuse University. RYAN SULLIVAN is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. The views expressed here are those of the authors and should not be attributed to any part of the U.S. government.See more by Chris RohlfsSee more by Ryan Sullivan
Last summer, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the Pentagon's Joint Program Office for Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (JPO-MRAP), a $45 billion program to design, manufacture, and deploy 27,000 heavily protected vehicles into Iraq and Afghanistan, had saved "thousands and thousands of lives." The Joint Program Office drilled down a more specific figure: MRAPs, as they're known in military jargon, saved the lives of 40,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, without MRAPs, the number of combat deaths from those wars would be comparable to the number killed in Korea or Vietnam.
The Joint Program Office put a specific number on what was becoming the conventional wisdom on the new military machinery. Over the past few years, media outlets, including the Boston Herald and USA Today, repeatedly reported on the life-saving power of MRAPs. The Pentagon underscored the news with its own official releases. Purchases of MRAPs have declined recently due to the withdrawal of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Defense Department continues to focus on the vehicle -- it recently awarded a contract for more MRAPs, with the authority to purchase another 5,244 of them in the future. 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."
The Pentagon’s boosters are right that big budget cuts will limit military capabilities. What they fail to recognize is that...