THEATER OF OPERATIONS

Posted in Quick Hits on May 28th, 2013 by Ed

A short tangent off of yesterday's Memorial Day post.

People generally form an image of war as it is seen in the movies – people with guns shooting one another. In reality, getting shot has been relatively low on the list of dangers in 20th and 21st Century warfare. In the first World War, illness and artillery shells killed more men than bullets; in the second, bombing and artillery again accounted for more combat casualties than bullets. If you peruse the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, you'll see that the overwhelming majority of deaths and injuries have resulted from improvised explosive devices. Small arms fire accounts for about 10% of casualties due to hostile action. Ask the average American in Afghanistan if he would like a heavier, stronger bulletproof vest or a more heavily armored vehicle to ride in and I'm guessing that very few would choose the former.

Accordingly, the Department of Defense has purchased more than 13,000 purpose-built vehicles intended to protect occupants from mines, rockets, roadside bombs, suicide bombers, and other explosive threats. These MRAPs (Mine Resistant, Ambush-Protected) are enormous, hulking machines built specifically for war zones. They are designed to allow occupants to survive the worst of the worst. This picture, showing five men with a FP Cougar, gives some sense of scale. This particular model weighs 36,000 pounds. The gargantuan Buffalo model is over 13 feet tall and weighs 21 tons.

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These giants are hard to drive, understandably. With high centers of gravity they are prone to rollovers and they struggle to accelerate beyond 35-50 mph in most cases (note that vehicle accidents are also common on the list of fatalities). It's also difficult and expensive to get them to the Middle East. But in the interest of giving the troops a better chance of surviving explosive attacks, they were purchased by the thousands.

The question, as the wars wind down, is what the hell to do with all of them. They're being given away gratis to friendly nations, mothballed back in the U.S., and…wait for it…transferred to domestic federal agencies like the FBI and Homeland Security.

Anyone want to place bets on how long it takes them to end up in the hands of police departments? Given the extent to which the police have been militarized in the last 30 years, this is the logical next step. "Overkill" is not in their vocabulary, nor is practicality high on their list of concerns. Give it about a year before the bigger cities start justifying it – What if there's a terrorist attack! Bombs! 9/11! Hurrr! – and then the suburbs and the sticks, refusing to be left behind in the Coolest Toys arms race, follow suit. That's all we need.