Company to noteMRAPs keep soldiers safe from mines, IEDs on battlefield

Published 5 February 2009

The Obama administration wants to send tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan; these troops will need protection from land mines and IEDs; Force Protection, a company producing Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MARP) vehicles, stands to benefit

In this gloomy economic period, look for Ladson, South Carolina-based Force Protection to do well. Here is why: The Obama administration is moving forward on plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq while increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, as was the case in Iraq, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) pose a threat to U.S. and NATO forces. One way to protect the troops is to use Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MARP) to ferry them about.

One such MRAP is the Cougar. DID reports that the Cougar family of medium-sized blast-protected vehicles is produced in both 4-wheel (formerly Cougar H) and 6-wheel (formerly Cougar HE) layouts. It took some time — Donald Rumsfeld famously said that “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had” — but, eventually, the wisdom of using survivable vehicles in a theater where land mines and IEDs were the No. 1 threat became clearer, and these vehicles have gradually shifted from dedicated engineer and Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) roles to patrol and route-proving convoy lead functions as well. The 4×4 vehicles usually carry 4 troops plus the front seats, while the 6×6 variants can carry up to 8+2. They may also carry an assortment of related equipment, such as bomb disposal robots.

These are not small vehicles. The M1114 up-armored Hummers have an empty “curb weight” of around 9,000 pounds, and a top weight of about 12,000 pounds. The smaller Cougar 4×4’s curb weight is 31,000 pounds (max. 38,000), while the 6×6’s curb weight is 38,000 pounds (max. 52,000) (the Web page of manufacturer Force Protection says: “Drop your purse, it’s not a Hummer”).

Note that Cougar orders predate the U.S. MRAP program to rush mine-resistant vehicles to the front lines; indeed, the performance Force Protection’s vehicles in theater was probably the main trigger for the MRAP program’s existence (front line testimonials offer evidence of their effectiveness). To date, the firm has received orders from Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Iraq, and Yemen.

Two quick notes: Force Protection’s Cheetah vehicle wasn’t selected under the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) competition to replace America’s Hummers, but an expanded partnership just made it an MRAP All terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) interim fielding candidate. Meanwhile, the company’s Buffalo MRAP CAT-III orders continue, and so do training and support contracts.