So why is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) buying 2700 light armor tanks? That would be an excellent question… if it were true. But despite the orgasmic expositions on talk radio and the vomitous speculations on blogs, DHS isn’t. The vehicles in question aren’t tanks and they aren’t for DHS.
Specifically, the 2700 vehicles that the Administration is purchasing are Mine Resistant Ambush Protection vehicles, or MRAPs. An MRAP is not a tank. It’s a light Armored Personal Carrier or APC. This is what a MRAP looks like:
Take a good look at what you see in this picture. Notice the rather large tires, the lack of a main weapon system, the vaguely SUV shape and the simple windows. This is not a tank, it doesn’t look like a tank, it looks far more like a big truck.
Now look like at a tank, the main battle tank of the US Army.
This is a tank, arguably the most advanced tank on the planet, is a true weapon. It has tracks, not wheels, so it can go almost anywhere. It has reactive armor, unlike the MRAP which has plate steel and ceramics. And who could miss the main weapon system, a 105mm rifled barrel cannon. (The tank here is a 1979 XM1. Modern M1A1′s and later have an even bigger gun, a 120mm Smoothbore cannon that is even more accurate, flexible and deadly.)
I think it’s clear from these pictures that these two vehicles serve vastly different purposes. While a small arms gun could be mounted on the roof of an MRAP, it’s hardly a tank. It is designed to take soldiers into and through dangerous areas as safely as possible. It is not designed to kill people, although it can be deadly. Mounting a .50 caliber machine gun on the roof or even a coaxial 7.62 would make an MRAP a dangerous platform to attempt to ambush.
The DHS does own several of the MRAP’s as well as several other police departments around the nation. They are modified from what you see in the picture and are most commonly used by SWAT teams. It allows a team to get very close to a bad guy with a lot of metal and ceramic between them. Typically, they aren’t armored, but I’m not going to say there aren’t some out there with a gun system mounted on it. Frankly, it would seem a waste of both ammunition and equipment, since that isn’t the purpose of police or DHS people having these vehicles, and wouldn’t be very useful to them.
But all that said, why are certain talk show hosts and bloggers going out of there way to call them tanks? Because it’s scarier. It doesn’t sound scary to say that DHS is buying what are really supped up armored cars. When they say “tank” it immediately brings to mind the big gun so plainly visible on the M1A1. Tanks are designed to kill people, APC’s are designed to keep people from getting killed. It’s basic fear mongering.
So where did this come from? This rumor of DHS buying 2700 tanks? I’m not sure. It seems to have started on the Modern Survival Blog, a right leaning political blog. He has identified the MRAP as being the Navistar model, and I believe he is correct. He also has pictures of DHS versions as well as police versions that may have been acquired through DHS. This is not new. Right here in North Alabama, several departments have APC’s.
What he fails to do is put the connection betwenn the 2700 MRAP’s being refit at West Point, Mississippi with DHS. Strangely enough, there is a federal procurement contract for 2717 MRAP refits between Navistar and the US Government, with the refits being done at the West Point facility. But it isn’t DHS that’s buying them. It’s the US Navy buying them for the US Marines. You can even view the contract summary here, but I’ll post the summary for you.
Navistar Defense, L.L.C., Warrenville, Ill., is being awarded an $879,923,195 firm-fixed-priced delivery order 0023 under previously awarded contract (M67854-07-D-5032) for the procurement of 2,717 units of rolling chassis; 10 engineering change proposals; and 25 contract data requirements lists, for MaxxPro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Work will be performed in West Point, Miss., and is expected to be completed by the end of October 2013. Procurement funds in the amount of $879,923,195 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The original contract was competitively procured. The Marine Corps Systems Command, Quantico, Va., is the contracting activity.
So the Marines are buying 2717 MRAP’s, not the DHS. Some small portion of these MRAP’s may end up being given to the DHS, assuming the Marines have enough “extra” that they are going to get rid of a few. (Marines rarely do this. They are the land fighting arm of a procurement system that does naval fighting, so when they get something they tend to keep it a while.)
By the way, the Tank story broke on Monday. The contract was awarded… in January. Of 2012.
So if you hear some blogger, talk show host, or friend tell you about the DHS buying 2700 tanks… ask them for the procurement number. I’ve given it to you… it’s contract M67854-07-D-5032 delivery order 0023. It’s for 2717 MaxxPro MRAPs. And it’s for the Marines. And until someone shows me a procurement order for DHS, I don’t buy it. And I suspect, neither did DHS.
Now if you want to get freaked out about something that the DHS is doing, read this article from CNET about their drones. That’s scary.