5 years, 8 months ago
I am sorry if it offends – and it certainly does upset some of the military types, and the “consultants” and designers responsible for the Viking and the decision to deploy it to Afghanistan – but, on the basis of all the evidence we have, Booker and I both have come to the conclusion that Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe and Trooper Joshua Hammond should not have died.
That they did die is the greater offence and, while it must always be remembered that the proximate cause was a Taleban bomb, in a cold-blooded act of murder, the neglect of the MoD and all those involved with the deployment of this vehicle is a contributory factor. Thus does Booker in his column today point the finger squarely at the MoD.
From Mick Smith (and others) in The Sunday Times, we get the first published confirmation of that which we had already worked out, that Lt-Col Thorneloe was riding in the front passenger seat of the Viking. With his driver, they were in two of the most vulnerable positions in a dangerously vulnerable vehicle.
In other circumstances, writes Smith, Thorneloe would have travelled by helicopter; but it appears none was available. He notes, however, that the MoD declined to confirm or deny this.
Without this facility, and wanting to “get up among his boys at the first possible opportunity,” Thorneloe found that, “A resupply convoy was going up there and he hitched a lift on that.” As the Viking approached a canal crossing, it passed over a hidden IED which destroyed the front cab. Thorneloe and the driver, Hammond, died instantly.
The lack of helicopter notwithstanding, if Thorneloe had not been in the vehicle, someone else would have died. And the incident would already have been a footnote in the history of the campaign, blanked out by the operations being mounted, not least the big push by the US Marines further south.
As for the Viking, this was originally produced as an amphibious assault vehicle and delivered to the Royal Marines in 2001, for use in the Arctic Circle as a mobility platform when reinforcing the Nato northern flank, assisting the Norwegians against a Soviet invasion. It was a Cold War machine, designed for a different purpose.
In that role, the question of protection had been considered – and the machine was armoured against ballistic threats. However, within the “Littoral Manoeuvre” parameters set at the time, a decision was made deliberately to skimp on mine protection to save weight. This was to enable the machine to be lifted by a Chinook helicopter and to maintain the amphibious free board clearances.
Richard goes on to point out that the Viking doesn’t have a V-hull like the more modern MRAPs fielded by the U.S. forces.
Big fan: Marine 1st Sgt. Eric Rummel stands near a Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) truck in which he survived a blast from a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2008. Courtesy of Eric Rummel
Eric Rummel knows just how effective the V-hull can be at directing the force of the blast away from the vehicle.
It took a matter of seconds to make 1st Sgt. Eric Rummel a true believer.
The marine was driving through southern Afghanistan last year when his truck hit a roadside bomb buried in a gulch. The vehicle shuddered, popped into the air, and settled back down again in a cloud of desert dust.
The whole thing was over before he knew what happened, but Sergeant Rummel and the two other men in the truck that day all walked away. The truck was a Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected truck (MRAP) – a 16-ton behemoth that came to be regarded as the soldier’s lifeboat in Iraq, its V-shaped hull saving lives by deflecting the blast of roadside bombs.
Rummel’s story points to the same success in Afghanistan. “God bless the MRAP and what it does,” he says.
But the mammoth trucks are built for Iraq, where troops are fighting a largely urban insurgency on city streets. Afghanistan’s insurgency is rural, and the Pentagon is in a race to completely redesign the MRAP for its new duty, making it lighter, with a beefier suspension and better off-road capabilities for troops who launch missions into fields and up hillsides – often with no roads.
The effort, however, calls into question one of the bedrock tenets of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s regime: He wants to prioritize equipment that saves troops’ lives. But experts wonder if, in the process, he is saddling the military for years to come with a fleet of vehicles that can be used in only one spot on the globe.
“It’s not so clear that we can develop a new class of vehicles every time we go to a new country,” says Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a policy group in Washington.
The initial program to come up with a new breed of Afghan-friendly MRAPs, called Multi-Purpose All Terrain Vehicles, or M-ATVs, will cost $2 billion. The MRAP program has produced more than 16,000 vehicles in two years. This month, the Pentagon is expected to finalize a contract that would put more than 2,000 M-ATVs in Afghanistan – some by this fall.
The logic is clear: Roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan are up some 80 percent over last year.
The day Rummel’s truck was hit, he was using his MRAP as an ambulance to evacuate war wounded near the town of Now Zad in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, an area of intense fighting. Before his truck had even arrived in the gulch, four other improvised explosive devices had detonated in that area; two marines later needed amputations.
The explosion surprised Rummel, particularly because the Humvee in front of him had just driven through the same gulch unscathed.
As much as he loves the truck that protected his life, Rummel says the current MRAP isn’t the right truck for Afghanistan, adding: “It’s just too big of a vehicle.”
The Captain’s Journal hasn’t any wisdom to convey regarding whether the newer all terrain MRAP should go forward, or whether the existing MRAPs should be made to work. But either way, the use of amphibious vehicles in Afghanistan is about as stolid as I can imagine. At least the MRAPs have been relocated to Afghanistan, and more and better ones are on the way.
Ultimately though, the best counterinsurgency is done on the ground. Dismounted patrols must be conducted in force, by more troops that we currently have (or have planned) in order to ensure an acceptable outcome. Infantry belongs on foot.
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