MRAPs represent new tool on contentious Korean peninsula
SEOUL — MRAPs, the iconic vehicle of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, have arrived on the Korean peninsula, giving the U.S. and South Korea a new tool to keep the peace and respond to hostilities here.
Earlier this month, five MRAPs — short for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles — were flown into Osan Air Base and delivered to the 2nd Infantry Division in the northernmost region of South Korea.
U.S. military officials said 2ID will test more than 50 of the vehicles to see how they might be used by American troops here.
Asked if the MRAP testing was aimed at better preparing for potential provocations from North Korea, or for possible navigation someday through the heavily mined Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula, 8th Army spokesman Col. Andrew Mutter said, “It’s about protecting our soldiers and seeing if this capability is right for Korea.”
Lt. Col. Joe Scrocca, spokesman for 2ID, said the initial testing of the MRAPs will come during the upcoming Ulchi Freedom Guardian annual joint training exercise with the South Korean military.
Dates for this year’s exercise have not yet been announced, but it is traditionally staged in August.
Scrocca said testing the MRAPs’ “viability for integration into current 2ID formations” should take less than a year.
“Beyond the increased force protection MRAPs offer our soldiers, MRAPs provide the 2nd Infantry Division the best platform for ‘mission command-on-the-move’ systems that allow our commanders to take command-post communications (and) command-and-control capabilities with them while circulating the battlefield,” he said.
Asked if the 2ID was concerned how North Korea might respond to the MRAP testing, Scrocca said, “The addition of MRAPs improves the 2nd Infantry Division’s force protection capabilities and enhances our ability to preserve peace and deter aggression on the Korean peninsula.”
Officials said most, if not all, of the MRAPs being delivered to South Korea were previously deployed in either Iraq or Afghanistan and were refurbished in the U.S.
Mutter said U.S. military officials want to “capitalize on our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan” in figuring out how MRAPs might best be used in South Korea.
To the best of his knowledge, Mutter said, this month’s deliveries mark the first time MRAPs have been on the Korean peninsula.
There may soon be more. The Korea JoongAng Daily recently reported the South Korean government had agreed to buy 2,000 refurbished MRAPs from the U.S. as part of an effort to better equip its military.
The newspaper quoted an unidentified “high-level Korean government official” as saying: “Korea … will bring them in 2013 and position them on the front line in the following year.”
An official with the South Korean Ministry of National Defense said Thursday no final decision about such a purchase have been made, so “we’re not quite sure where they might be deployed.”
MRAPs were specifically designed to protect their occupants from blasts from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a popular weapon used against U.S. troops in recent wars. Deploying them on the Korean peninsula would seem to make sense given the mountainous terrain and the hundreds of thousands of landmines believed to be buried in the 155-mile-long, 2.5-mile-wide DMZ.
The Washington Post reported earlier this year U.S. military officials were struggling to figure out what to do with the tens of thousands of MRAPs no longer needed in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Stars and Stripes’ Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.