FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — A good rapid reaction force is built on speed. But advancements in military technology have made it more difficult for the U.S. military's quick deployment forces, centered around the 82nd Airborne Division, to deploy on short notice as needed.
Light tactical all-terrain vehicles, now a fixture in the Global Response Force, are meant to tip the scales back in the 82nd Airborne's favor.
The vehicles, known as MRZRs, were fielded by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team in October 2014.
The 2nd Brigade, then on the GRF mission, assessed the vehicles and laid the groundwork for their use within the 82nd Airborne.
Now the 1st Brigade Combat Team, which has assumed the GRF mission, is charged with expanding the use of the vehicles and further integrating them into military operations.
This month, many of the brigade's paratroopers acquainted themselves with the MRZRs and their capabilities.
Lt. Col. Patrick M. Roddy Jr., commander of the brigade's 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, said the vehicle is the Army's answer to a global arms race.
The vehicles' versatility and speed make the GRF more unpredictable and provide a counterbalance to enemy attempts to stop the force from seizing a target from the air, he said.
While today's airfields can be guarded from airborne attacks by anti-aircraft weapons and cyber defenses, the MRZR allows an airborne force to jump a distance from its target but still reach the airfield in time to surprise the enemy.
"In short, it's a level of mobility that we can't achieve with any other system," Roddy said.
At a sandy course of orange road cones dubbed the MRZR 500, soldiers from the battalion's A Company took turns testing the limits of the MRZRs.
Most were impressed.
Spc. Dave Pollack, a master driver from B Company who was helping teach other members of the battalion, said paratroopers initially didn't know what to expect from the vehicles.
"I didn't think it was as capable as it is," he said.
Now, Pollack said, he's sold on their usefulness.
First Lt. Dave Peet, the brigade's project manager for the MRZR integration, said the vehicles are more maneuverable than a Humvee and easy for soldiers to learn how to operate.
Under Peet's direction, the soldiers learned the basics of the vehicle and then more advanced tactics.
On Fort Bragg's training lands, the soldiers got a feel for the power of the MRZR and practiced using winches and other tools to get the vehicles unstuck from tough terrain.
As the day progressed, the training got more difficult.
"Almost everyone out here is new to this," Peet said. "But from now on, any training these platoons do, they'll be using the MRZR."
Officials said the MRZR won't replace other military vehicles, like mine-resistant ambush protect vehicles known as MRAPs, which have thick armor plating and a v-shaped hull to deflect roadside bombs.
Unlike the MRZR, the MRAP is designed to be attacked.
"It's great when you know you have to drive down Highway 1 in Iraq," Roddy said, noting a frequently used route for U.S. troops in that country.
The MRZRs are more akin to the small, speedy motorbikes that enemy forces have used to stay off roads and harass U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's high speed tactical mobility. It's movement to avoid contact," Roddy said. "This is not a fighting vehicle."
Eventually, MRZRs will be dropped from planes along with paratroopers, or to the front by helicopters, Roddy said.
The vehicles will change how quickly paratroopers can respond once they hit the ground.
"Once you hit the drop zone, it's a 3-mph-war," Roddy said. "This is going to change that. It is going to dramatically change the speed and tempo with which we conduct operations."
Paratroopers moving on foot give the enemy too much time to prepare a defense, Roddy said.
With the MRZR, paratroopers can jump miles away then speed ahead at 60 mph.
"This changes the playing field," Roddy said. "It makes us more unpredictable."
There are other advantages, too.
When Roddy's battalion jumped into an airfield at Fort Polk, Louisiana, last year as it trained to take over the GRF mission, soldiers spent their first 48 hours on the ground chasing enemy fire harassing their camp.
With MRZRs, Roddy suggests that paratroopers could take out those types of weapons much faster, or move quickly to secure secondary drop zones on the fly.
The vehicles also will be used for medical evacuations and to more easily move heavy equipment, such as mortars, across the battlefield.
"We're at the very front end of the learning curve," Roddy said.
Roddy said his battalion will build on the efforts of 2nd Brigade, which initially was tasked with integrating the MRZRs. That battalion placed the division's 33 MRZRs into a single company as soldiers adapted their use.
Roddy is spreading the vehicles across his battalion. Each company will field one MRZR platoon, he said. That puts more leaders overseeing the vehicles, providing more opportunity for new ideas.
Eventually, the division likely will field enough vehicles for an entire brigade, he said. Until then, each unit will need to build on the success of its predecessor.
Second Brigade focused on determining whether the vehicle was right for the GRF and if it could perform as needed.
"The answer was a resounding 'Yes,'" Roddy said.
Now, 1st Brigade will try to determine how best to utilize the vehicles.
"What's the tactical advantage? That's clear," Roddy said. "But how do I sustain this? I need to fuel, fix and repair. How easy is this capability to sustain."
In early testing, that answer has been fairly simple, too.
Roddy said a MRZR can be torn apart and put back together by a 15 mm wrench.
"From what I've looked at and seen, I'm very, very, very impressed," he said.
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