MRAP sale to Emirates may enable regional military force

A U.S. airman marshals a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle off a C-5 Galaxy on Sept. 25, 2008 at an air base in Southwest Asia.


By TOM VANDEN BROOK | USA Today | Published: October 14, 2014

WASHINGTON — The tiny, oil-rich nation United Arab Emirates could be laying the foundation for an Arab peacekeeping force by seeking to buy more than 4,500 roadside-bomb protected trucks from the Pentagon, according to a U.S. government official.

The proposed sale was announced late last month by the State Department without indication of their use by peacekeepers. The transaction could net the Pentagon $2.5 billion and install a large fleet of armored, roadside-bomb-resistant trucks for use in the troubled region.

It follows a series of meetings in recent years between officials from the United States, UAE and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional group of six Middle Eastern nations to establish joint security forces in the region.

The sale of as many as 4,569 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) trucks could equip a force of Arab nations that has yet to be created, said the U.S. government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because officials were not authorized to discuss the sale publicly.

In December, President Obama signed an order determining "that the furnishing of defense articles and defense services to the Gulf Cooperation Council will strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace." The members of the GCC are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The Pentagon credited the trucks with saving the lives and limbs of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan where improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were the top killer. There are several troubled countries in the region, including Iraq once again where the threat to a potential peacekeeping force from IEDs, would be high.

Peacekeepers would operate like the African Union, a coalition of African nations that pools resources and troops. Last week, for example, African Union forces along with troops from Somalia — many traveling in MRAPs — chased al-Qaeda-linked rebels from a town in the southern part of that country. Most the troops from the coalition came from six African countries.

A spokesman for the UAE embassy declined to comment on the sale of the MRAPs and what they would be used for. The UAE has about 51,000 active-duty members of its armed forces, according to published reports citing the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

By contrast, the U.S. Army plans to keep about 8,000 MRAPs — half of them in mothballs — for a force of about 500,000 soldiers.

"The MRAPs are for the legitimate defense and security requirements of the UAE," said Navy Cmdr. Elissa Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman. "The vehicles will be used to increase force protection, to conduct humanitarian assistance operations, and to protect vital international commercial trade routes and critical infrastructure. Additionally, these MRAPs will enhance UAE's burden-sharing capacity and defensive capabilities."

The Pentagon and State Department support the sale, Smith said. The UAE may not buy the entire amount approved for sale.

The trucks, whose V-shaped hulls, armor and raised chassis, protect troops riding inside from the blast from bombs buried in roads.

The sale makes sense, said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense expert at the Brookings Institution, at least as much from a business perspective as a peacekeeping one. The Pentagon bought about 28,000 MRAPs when the wars raged in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, it's trying to divest itself of the vehicles, which are heavy and lack maneuverability.

"I don't expect a huge payoff in terms of peacekeeping," O'Hanlon said. "Almost anything would be an improvement, but this should probably be viewed in large part as a lucrative arms export deal more than a hugely promising increase in regional peacekeeping capacity. That doesn't make it a bad idea but should perhaps remind us to restrain our expectations."

The purchase is also in keeping with the UAE's pursuit of advanced weaponry to defend the wealthy nation of just 5 million people. Last year, for instance, the UAE bought 25 F-16 fighter jets, part of a $10 billion sale of advanced weapons to Middle East states.

UAE pilots are flying F-16s, along with U.S. and other Arab allies, in sorties against Islamic State targets in Syria. They've also sought advanced U.S. anti-missile systems with an eye toward Iran, which lays across the Persian Gulf.

"The Emiratis are gearing up. Iran. The Caliphate. All comers," said John Pike, executive director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense policy website. "They are serious. They are not to be messed with and they want to make sure that everybody knows they are not to be messed with."