By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 22, 2008 - Defense Department officials' confidence in mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles is unshaken after a deadly roadside bomb in Iraq marked the first time a U.S. servicemember was killed while traveling in one of the armored vehicles. An Army gunner died, and three other soldiers were wounded when a "very large, deep-buried" improvised explosive device detonated underneath their MRAP in southern Baghdad on Jan. 19, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said during a news conference at the Pentagon today. Morrell told reporters that commanders on the ground estimate the three survivors might not have escaped life-threatening injuries in a less-protected vehicle.
"I think what's remarkable about the attack is the fact that the crew compartment, despite how large the bomb was, was not compromised by the IED, and that the three crew members inside walked away with, I believe, cuts and broken bones in their feet," he said. "I think everybody is still amazed that the fact that, despite the size of this bomb, these vehicles are proven to be every bit as strong and as life-saving as we hoped they would be."
The MRAP, with a distinctive V-shaped hull and beefy profile, has been widely touted by Defense Department and military officials as the best available protection for ground forces. But an article in the New York Times today suggested the first fatality to occur in an MRAP attack dashed all hope that the vehicles represent an achievement in force-protection technology.
"That attack has not, as reported in the headline of a leading newspaper today, caused anyone to question the vehicle's life-saving capacity," Morrell countered. "To the contrary, the attack reaffirmed their survivability."
Defense Department officials are in preliminary stages of reviewing the bombing attack, which sent the vehicle airborne and caused it to overturn, Morrell said. The size of the bomb and materials comprising it are undetermined, and the exact cause of the gunner's death is under investigation.
"(The gunner) was positioned atop the vehicle, outside the vehicle, or partially exposed on top, and we're trying to determine now whether or not the force of the blast is what claimed his life or whether the rollover itself took his life," Morrell said.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has confidence in the 2,225 MRAPs currently used by U.S. forces in Iraq in Afghanistan, Morrell said. "Secretary Gates is not questioning the protection provided by MRAPs. He is, in fact, more convinced than ever that these vehicles do, indeed, save lives," Morrell added.
Last week, Gates toured a facility in Charleston, S.C., where MRAP vehicles are outfitted with radios, sensors, jammers and other equipment before being shipped to servicemembers in theater. He praised crewmembers at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Charleston, who work around the clock in two shifts and have equipped more than 60 MRAPs a day this month.
"Those in the MRAP program have shown that it can be done. So keep raising your sights. Keep these vehicles rolling off the line," Gates told the facility employees Jan. 18. "Your efforts are saving lives."
Gates conceded that there is no failsafe measure to prevent all loss of life and limb on the battlefield. "That is the brutal reality of war," he said a day before the fatal roadside bomb attack. "But vehicles like MRAP, combined with the right tactics, techniques and procedures, provide the best protection available against these attacks."