The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle program is considered the model to follow when getting acquisition right while rapidly fielding equipment to the troops. Thousands of Improvised Explosive Devices were killing US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who were riding around in flat-bottomed Humvees using sandbags on the floor to try to protect themselves from IED blasts. It didn't work.
So then-Defense Secretary Bob Gates, having read about a new armored vehicle with a V-shaped hull able to deflect blasts that was saving Marines' lives in Iraq, set out to try to acquire the vehicle in 2007. Gates was surprised to find out there were several attempts to move the MRAP program forward, but bureaucracy got in the way, according to his account in his memoir "Duty."
In order to get MRAPs to the warfighter, it took a Pentagon leader to move the program forward by declaring it the highest acquisition priority. The program became the first major military acquisition to go from a decision to buy them to production in less than a year since World War II.
Gates garnered funding and support from Congress and moved out quickly, building thousands of the vehicles and getting them fielded in record time.
Instead of waiting for a perfect vehicle, the MRAP was upgraded and improved to be lighter and more maneuverable in a few short years to follow.
"As usual in a huge bureaucracy, the villains were the largely nameless and faceless people — and their leaders — who were wed to their old plans, programs and thinking and refused to change their ways regardless of circumstances," Gates writes.
And the MRAP program divorced acquisition from Pentagon bureaucracy. It has since served as a constant reminder that the Army can’t just wait for the perfect program to meet a set of requirements, especially when lives are at stake. And it shows that Congress, the Pentagon and industry can streamline its processes to get there.
"It is the only time in my 42 years in the industry that all bureaucratic silos in the government procurement process were broken down and there was a single-mindedness of purpose among all involved," now-retired Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said.
The MRAP has recently re-emerged as a case study for new initiatives in rapid acquisition such as the Rapid Capabilities Office that the Army is launching, which strives to field needed capabilities within one to five years.
The Pentagon built so many MRAPs it is working to sell or give away the vehicles to other countries. Egypt is receiving them, for example, taking possession of its first vehicles in May.
This article is part of a larger Defense News 30-year anniversary project, showcasing the people, programs and innovations from the last three decades that most shaped the global security arena. Go to defensenews.com/30th to see all of our coverage.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.