Why the MRAP Is Worth the Money

Dispelling the Flawed Logic of One Battlefield Study

An MRAP parked in Afghanistan in July. (Lucas Jackson / Courtesy Reuters)

In “The MRAP Boondoggle,” Chris Rohlfs and Ryan Sullivan argue that mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles are a colossal waste of money. 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 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.

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