The hidden hazards of MRAPs

Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles — now being acquired as surplus equipment by police agencies under states’ 1033 programs — have a high center of gravity, making them prone to topple

Now that the military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is drawing to a close, the services that used Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles — MRAPs — are declaring them surplus. Many of these vehicles are being picked up by local law enforcement agencies to serve as tactical personnel carriers through their state’s 1033 program. That is not always such a great idea.

The first issue to overcome is one of public image. There is no shortage of people in the United States who are vocal about how the police are becoming militarized, possibly (according to some, probably) to facilitate disarming the citizenry and bringing about the New World Order. Painting your agency’s livery on the side of a truck that has been in the newspapers carrying soldiers and Marines for the past 10 years is fuel for these folks’ fires.

The police department in the town where I grew up is getting considerable flak for their new acquisition, even though they badly needed a new tactical vehicle.

Access and Egress
Less obvious are the safety hazards associated with the vehicles themselves. After a conversation with a career Army officer familiar with the issue, I was directed to Bobby Russell, the civilian site lead for MRAP University at the Red River Army Depot near Texarkana (Texas). MRAP University provides training for MRAP vehicle military crews, drivers and maintainers.

There are two models of MRAP offered to public safety agencies: the MaxxPro and the Caiman. The Maxx Pro has a drop-down tailgate, while on the Caiman, the rear door opens sideways. In a rollover situation, particularly one where part of the vehicle is submerged, or on its top, the door operation limits the places anyone can get out.

Crews looking to deploy in MRAPs have to undergo egress training, and according to one experienced source, “It’s not fun.”

“Most of the front doors are air-assisted,” Russell told me. “Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. When entering an MRAP, if a crewman reaches up to the door handle to pull himself up, it can and will close the door on them.”

Malfunctions are even more likely if the vehicle has suffered a mishap and the engine is no longer running. If there is no air pressure, the functions are limited.

MRAP doors are also fitted with “combat locks” designed to keep the enemy from getting up close and personal with the crew. If these locks are engaged, it will be very difficult for rescue personnel to gain access to the interior of the vehicle.

MRAP University has one rollover simulator, an MRAP shell that can be rotated at will by the simulator operator. These simulators aren’t widely available, and local public safety agencies aren’t likely to have access to them.

There is a reason that rollovers are a special concern. Of 66 MRAP accidents overseas between November 2007 and June 2008, 40 were rollovers caused by rough roads, road shoulders collapsing, bridge failures or bad driving. These vehicles have a high center of gravity, and taking them on an incline of 30 degrees or more can cause them to topple.

The crew member in the top turret is at greatest risk in a rollover. While just taking personnel out of the turret is an option, it invites a new hazard. Visibility from inside the vehicles is very poor, and the person manning the turret often has to advise the driver via the vehicle’s intercom about obstructions to the side or rear.

The turret itself could be a problem in an urban environment. The turret is almost ten feet off the ground, and a rider’s body adds to that height. Troops manning turrets were occasionally clotheslined by utility cables or booby traps while crossing the terrain they were navigating.

The vehicles are extremely heavy for their size. The Caiman weighs 24 tons unloaded; the MaxxPro over 18 tons. Personnel and equipment add to that load. Small bridges have collapsed under the weight of MRAPs. Would the bridges in your community be up to the challenge?

Most of the MRAPs are street legal as delivered, but don’t count on taking them on any regional excursions unless you have a trailer to transport it. The vehicles get around 6 mpg, and hold between 50 and 80 gallons of fuel. The trucks run on diesel and/or JP8 fuel.

Although they’ll have to develop some workarounds, maintenance can be performed by most vehicle shops equipped to service trucks and heavy equipment. Finding a technician experienced in MRAPs could be a challenge, but Russell suggested contacting the National Guard unit closest to the vehicle’s home. Many guardsmen were deployed in MRAPs and were trained in their use and maintenance.

Although he might prefer otherwise, Russell can’t provide much assistance in training or maintenance for MRAPs. The Army regards MRAPs as legacy equipment, and MRAP University will soon shut down.

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