THEATER OF OPERATIONS

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.

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41 Responses to “THEATER OF OPERATIONS”

  1. wetcasements Says:

    Democracy: We Deliver

  2. Sean Says:

    I support our troops, in that I am sorry they have to serve and die over a fucking Corporate Lie in some Foreign Hell, to accomplish what amounts to nothing. What a waste of their talents, and their lives. Oh yeah, and (least importantly, but c'mon) taxpayer money, while we're at it…

  3. Dr. Mac Says:

    Preppers!!!!! Hell yea!!

  4. moderateindy Says:

    I'll bet they would show up first in State Police hands. I know IL has departments called something like Regional special tactical groups or some such nonsense. They are supposedly used for quelling riots, and the like, and I remember them being employed a couple years ago on the Western Il University campus, when they took a large block party that was a little out of hand, and instead of sending in the town cops to diffuse the situation, (something the cops are pretty adept at doing in the town) they decided to line the members of the unit up chest to chest and using pepper spray, and whatnot, advanced on the students to clear the block. It, of course, was met with the response you would expect from a bunch of drunken college kids. They basically provoked a riot. They also had one of those trucks that sent out the high pitched sonic sirens. All crap they just had to use, in order to justify wasting all that cash for a regional tactical group. A convenient self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. See we really needed to bring the riot squad out, nevermind the fact that if they weren't there no riot would have actually happened.
    It's basically the same thing that comes with the military Industrial Complex, eventually someone is going to come up with a reason to use their toys, otherwise the taxpayer is gonna wonder why we are wasting so much cash for something we don't seem to need. What better way to prove we need to feed the beast than to enter into conflicts that allow us to show everyone what their tax money is paying for.
    Also, I don't think you'll see them showing up in cities first because most citites are so cash strapped that they rather not incur the extra expense just to keep these behemoths running.

  5. Xynzee Says:

    "… are enormous, hulking machines built specifically for war zones."
    My money is on quickly these will become the latest must have fashion vehicle.

  6. Buckyblue Says:

    Naw, they'll be down at the local Ford dealership after we see Arnold driving around CA with one.

  7. Desargues Says:

    "Improvised explosive devices" — can't we just call them what they are: roadside bombs? It's less rebarbative and weaselly.

  8. c u n d gulag Says:

    Small-dicked Conservative Male's POV:
    Well, looking at that, my Jumbo Hummer looks lame.

    And it makes my pick-up look like a toy.

    So, if those were made available to the general public, I'd sure as hell buy one, no matter what it costs!!!

    Does it positively GUZZLE gas?
    Because THAT would really be a selling point.
    You know – just to really piss-off the Liberals.

    If I drive to the mall in one of those, maybe they'll take both hands off the steering wheel, to give me a two-handed one-finger salute, and they can get in a accident, and I can really LMAO!

  9. Gavin Kith Says:

    The US is the richest country in the world.
    The US "cannot afford' single payer health care, Social Security, or the maintenance on its crumbling infrastructure.
    How is this possible?
    Massive wealth inequality is the main reason, but spending money on 13,000 MRAPs @ $500,000+ per vehicle doesn't help.

  10. Arslan Says:

    I assume the term "IED" was to distinguish them from purpose-built mines, standoff mines, and other explosive devices used to destroy or cripple vehicles. Supposedly these MRAPs are mine-resistant, but I still see plenty of stories of guys getting severe injuries from roadside bombs and photos of MRAPs blown to shit. I suppose it doesn't help when your wheels get blown off in the middle of an ambush. While these vehicles may have been designed to deal with various types of anti-vehicle mine, many IEDs are made from aerial bombs or artillery rounds. That's a bit more explosive power half the time.

  11. Tim H. Says:

    Conservative stimulus, they'll open the checkbook for an engine of death.

  12. Dave Dell Says:

    And, of course, you have to have "drug money" and "asset forfeiture" seizures to finance the equipment purchases. Meanwhile prison privatization is the new trend but the contracts say they have to be kept full to insure a profit. No problems with any of this in the richest, most freedom loving country in the world.

  13. Xynzee Says:

    @DD: that gives me an idea for a ballot measure(s).

    Combining legalisation of marijuana and finding a citizens' referendum to break the prison contracts and telling them to blow it out there ears and no we're not going to pay them out. I'm sure there are some very clever and motivated people who know how to write the law just right for this to happen.

  14. Well, mostly Says:

    Surprising twist at the end there. No doubt the Boys like their toys: we'll probably see those stateside. Really, why not?
    On the heels of Memorial Day I guessed this piece would mention the extreme casualties from the early days of war in A and I when they didn't have these hulking rides, just the regular Hummers, which got blown to hell so often and so easily. For which, Thank You Rumsfeld, you AH.

  15. MS Says:

    It's not even a "slippery slope" or "the next step", it's already law – the U.S. military is required by law to offer its surplus equipment to police departments, at no charge. All they have to do is accept it. That's why your local PD in Podunk, UT is now sporting gas masks and grenade launchers and assault rifles and armored vehicles.

    http://www.ajc.com/news/news/military-equipment-flowing-to-local-law-enforcemen/nT7ZK/

    Google "1033 DOD" for as much info as you care to know.

    As long as police departments have an endless stream of free military equipment flowing to them, militarization is inevitable.

  16. Dave Dell Says:

    I do remember the early 70's in Lincoln, NE. The local police department had just acquired a surplus Huey. I lived down by the grain elevator/railroad yard area of town about a half mile from the main police station/jail. It was in the air frequently. In the long run, which for a high maintenance item like a helicopter is a couple of years, it was too expensive.

    The tactical gear for the "foot soldier" police has a much longer shelf life and will be available as surplus for decades to come. I feel the direct cause of police rioting is the testosterone rush of strapping on all that armor combined with the anonymity of dressing in tactical gear. They feel 10 feet tall and covered with hair.

  17. vista Says:

    If cash strapped cities did have to pay for them, they will somehow "find" the funds to pay for them by taking them from public education, infrastructure, and from whatever social services they have left.

  18. afeman Says:

    I'm reminded of the narrative in Chivers's The Gun of how AK-47s wound up everywhere after the stockpiles of millions of the things in the former Soviet Bloc got liquidated. He points out hopefully that they do wear out, eventually.

  19. Major Kong Says:

    Take a good look NRA – that's what you'll be facing if "the government" ever decides to come take your guns.

  20. BigHank53 Says:

    If I were a city government, I'd snap one of these up in a heartbeat. The diesel drivetrain and hydraulics would be worth $50k on eBay, no sweat. Scrap steel is $400/ton. Save some of the hard-to-find bits (tires, wheel bearings, steering gear) to sell to the idiots who try to keep them running, and you'd have enough cash to keep two new cruisers on the road for half a decade. Which might actually do some good.

  21. Bob Says:

    Remember the 10% statistic next time some gun nut claims he needs his semi-automatic people killing special to oppose government tyranny. Small arms are not the primary weapon of death and destruction in warfare and having been for over a century.

  22. fdchief218 Says:

    This brings back SO many frustrations from my time on active duty…

    1. Calling them "IEDs" or "improvised explosives" elides the general category these things fall into; mines (either pressure- or command-detonated) and booby-traps. It still irks the hell out of me when these things are treated like some new and deadly phenomenon; they're as old as explosives.

    2. But…if they're "IEDs" and not "mines" or "booby-traps" then we the U.S. armed forces can explain how we were caught flat-footed when the muj started blowing us up with them…AND neatly avoiding the humiliating exposure of CRSS ("Can't Remember Shit Syndrome") that descended after we learned the hard way about these things in Vietnam and had to completely re-invent the convoy-discipline wheel we'd hammered out on National Route 19 from Qui Nhon to An Khe and Pleiku. Win-win!

    3. AND we could also avoid examination into how and why we spent half a year and a hell of a lot of money farkling around working up these "Cougar" MRAPs when the SADF had MRAPs off-the-shelf based on their adventures in Rhodesia and Mozambique. Another win!

    Anyway, now that we've decided that imperial policing is not a job for the squeamish, as law-enforcement vehicles these things would be an embarrassment; difficult to drive in any sort of urban terrain, difficult to mount and dismount, with, as you point out, a disturbing eagerness to roll over.

    Why not just drop all the surplus AT-4s on the coppers? There's GOT to be a use for a light antiarmor weapon in urban policing…

  23. sdg@g@t Says:

    So what the hell would you do with all of them Ed?

  24. jharp Says:

    I would recycle them into something useful.

    They are far worse than worthless in my opinion. They are a huge negative.

  25. fdchief218 Says:

    sdg@g@t: Actually, what they're good for is what they're designed for – imperial constabulary duties in the less-paved parts of the world where the danger of mines is high. So whatthehellever we end up with as our Afghan proxies (right now the ANA/AP) can use these to the degree which they can maintain them (my understanding is that they tend to be hanger queens and require a fairly high level of mechanical skill to keep running, not that good a choice for an impoverished Third World military).

    Otherwise, jharp pretty much pegs it. Nice planter boxes for the future Afghan Opium Council headquarters? Paint 'em up real colorful, install roof racks and sell them to the Kabul Transit Authority for chiva buses?

  26. Bernard Says:

    you can bet Red neck police will want tons of these babies. Just think of the image, no more Occupy protesters, crunched by these Military Toys. and for sure we'll see them in parades and other shows of "America's" might and power. meanwhile thousands starve, lose their homes and jobs, can't afford living, but the Bad Ole Government will keep the Rigth wingers happy with visions of these "sugarplums" coming their way.

    Socialism for the Rich and Poverty for the Rest. with toys like these, The Empire won't even have to strike back at the DFHs. a shame the Communist Party didn't get to see its' reincarnation in America, known as the Republican Party. Guns, Guns and more Guns.
    the Elite in power know how to live, don't they. of course, we taxpayers just thank our lucky stars they haven't come for us, as of yet. just take a note from the past head of MI5, who today said to spy on your neighbors, to be safe, you know.

    Sweet irony. if only there was a God to smite these ignorant Righwingers without us taxpayers footing the bill.

  27. Arslan Says:

    "AND we could also avoid examination into how and why we spent half a year and a hell of a lot of money farkling around working up these "Cougar" MRAPs when the SADF had MRAPs off-the-shelf based on their adventures in Rhodesia and Mozambique. Another win!"

    I thought these "MRAPS" looked really familiar. Good to know my mind isn't playing tricks.

    @Bernard

    "Socialism for the Rich and Poverty for the Rest. with toys like these, The Empire won't even have to strike back at the DFHs. a shame the Communist Party didn't get to see its' reincarnation in America, known as the Republican Party. Guns, Guns and more Guns."

    I know it's a bit off topic, but I beg thee not to perpetuate the meme of "socialism for the rich," which implies that socialism means government giving out money. Will really need to kill this meme if things are going to progress in American political discourse.

  28. jon Says:

    Convert them into firetrucks. America needs those, and most local governments have been hurting for cash for some time. The conversions will generate jobs, the giveaways to local governments will save jobs. And lives.

    Best idea I can come up with. Search and rescue, pumper trucks, wildland fire, that kind of thing.

  29. Phoenician in a time of Romans Says:

    sdg@g@t: Actually, what they're good for is what they're designed for – imperial constabulary duties in the less-paved parts of the world where the danger of mines is high.

    Shit – strap extra armor on the floor below the driver and have them drive up and down those minefields that make life in certain Third World countries a living hell.

  30. Jane Says:

    Phoenician:

    Have you heard about the trained rats that find mines fast? They also find tuberculosis in spit samples better than the clinic.

    Locals train and manage the rats.

    My very favorite charity. Hero rats.

    http://www.apopo.org

  31. Arslan Says:

    The thing is that "mine-resistant" means that the crew will be better protected against the effects of a mine, but that doesn't mean that it won't get blown to shit and become a total write-off itself. As for the ambush-proof part well, I suppose that depends on what they ambush you with.

  32. Tim H. Says:

    Arslan, yeah, "Socialism for the rich" isn't quite accurate, it's more like "Government optimized for the rich". Once upon a time, the United States government was optimized, (Poorly), for the 99%, in the belief that the 1% could take care of theirselves. Perhaps one day their pride will spur them to wonder if success would be possible at the tax and interest rates available to the 99%
    Concerning the MRAP, packed with explosives and rolled out of C-5, it might be more terrifying than a MOAB.

  33. fdchief218 Says:

    Arslan: re: ambush techniques the muj have also been using "directional" mines – basically ginormous claymores – against these things where they can. The downside of the design is that they are, as noted, topheavy and the protection comes largely from the shape of the vehicle rather than heavy armor – they're not tanks and are about as well armored as most APCs. So a blast from the side is effective both in penetrating the armor and flipping them on their sides.

    Plus a big enough charge will just throw the vehicle in the air and destroy it; my understanding is that the Viets used to salvage US aerial bombs and recycle them as mines; a 500lb bomb going up underneath your M113 or M551 would pretty much spoil your whole day.

  34. Arslan Says:

    Do you know if these "claymores" are the Soviet-manufactured anti-vehicle claymore mines or are they improvised? I have seen that they have been adding that cage armor around these vehicles and it seemed to me that this would be effective even against tandem shaped charge rounds like those of the RPG-29(just an example; I doubt many Taliban-types could get their hands on those in large numbers). But obviously if a bomb is strong enough it could propel fragments through the skin of vehicles with ease; one report on an IED attack I read said that the device managed to send a fragment through the gun of an Abrams(this was in Iraq). Obviously whatever can do that will shred a light vehicle.

  35. sdg@g@t Says:

    @fdchief218 So is recycling them a better alternative? I'm guessing you agree with Ed and are saying that giving them to the police is inherently a bad idea because it would make the police more military like, which generally I would agree with but in this particular case I'm not sure I understand why it's really a problem (don't they really serve a defensive roll? if so are we worried about cops getting some defensive tool they will likely never use?). It seem's like your suggesting that there are only two other options. I think you are saying that giving them to other countries is most likely wasteful and should therefore not be done? Would recycling them be worth the cost in time, money, and effort? To me it's just seems easy to give them away to people who might be able to use them, sort of like cutting your losses. I'm generally curious, these are not rhetorical questions.

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  37. fdchief218 Says:

    Arslan: My understanding is that the most common directional mines/IEDs are shaped-charge-type munitions, so at least in theory using a stand-off armor (like the wire cage you're describing) would work as well or better against a directional mine. As you note, however, a big enough explosive will work regardless…

    sdg@g@t: I think the problem I have with unloading them on police agencies is that 1) there's no real utility there and 2) I think it encourages the coppers to think they're soldiers. Coppers should really stay in their lane; acquiring old military hardware just distracts them from real police work. Couple that with the physical reality that these things are bloody enormous putting them on civilian streets is just a nuisance as far as I can see.

    As far as handing them off to the Third World locals, well, I guess that's the lesser of two evils. I don't see that as working out well, though, either; it either ends up requiring the Westerners to stick around maintaining the things or grabbing a hat and then seeing them rapidly become non-mission-capable as their maintenance requirements and parts needs overwhelm the local machinists.

    There's really no "good" ending here: we're stuck with a pantsload of these things in southcentral Asia. Shipping them to CONUS is prohibitive, the locals can't really use them, and nobody seems to like my idea of painting them pretty colors, filling the insides with dirt and making planter boxes out of them…

  38. Ruthie Says:

    They also weigh as much as a fully loaded tractor trailer–which will lead to more wear and tear on side roads that are already cratered with pot holes.

  39. evodevo Says:

    Back in the '80's, when we moved to our current VERY small town location , I had occasion to talk to the town cop a few times (in a friendly way), and noticed that his car was equipped with all the latest in riot gear (face shield, riot baton, etc. etc.). Always amazed me that, in a town of 200 elderly and rednecks, they were equipped for the next out-of-control demonstration, but had a hard time keeping the snow plowed. Priorities, I guess. And now, in our Amerikan paradise of Homeland Security, I imagine even we will get our drone and/or armored car sooner or later.

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