The United States is currently fighting against opponents who are weaker militarily. When one group of combatants has significantly fewer resources (perhaps it would be more accurate to say fewer resources in kind) than another, asymmetric warfare is the natural result. Simply put, if one team can't play on the same court, that team will find another game to play. If you have fewer disciplined and equipped military forces with shorter-ranged and less accurate systems, hampered by communications challenges and facing a highly mobile enemy who has complete arial domination, how do you compete? With explosives.
Improvised explosive devices are nothing new. They were used to great effect by the Confederacy, another combatant nation considerably out-resourced by its foe. Some of the techniques used by the Confederate IED planters, most especially command-detonating buried artillery shells by wire, are essentially the same as some current threats US and Allied forces face. The HMMWV standard small vehicle that replaced the Jeep was designed for transport, not resisting blasts.
South Africa faced years of asymmetric warfare, during which mines were frequently used by anti-government forces. In response, they developed several mine-resistant vehicles, such as the Casspir.
Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles have at least a couple features in common. Each has higher ground clearance to reduce transmitted shock to crew members, and a v-hull to direct most of the blast away. The US started testing MRAPs in 2004, and received the first large order in 2007. The decision that MRAPs were vital to protect US service members was quickly made, and the need was deemed urgent, so multiple companies were used to procure vehicles. These include Force Protection, who make the Cougar in 4
and 6 wheel versions, as well as the Buffalo route clearance vehicle; Navistar MaxxPro (the highest number of US MRAPs, according to Defense Industry Daily),
Each potential solution brings its own set of problems. With the MRAP, the additional protection brings a resultant size and weight penalty. This is less an issue in areas with well-developed, wide roads. Afghanistan's very poor road system, which traces its way over many mountains, limits the utility of larger vehicles. The Oshkosh M-ATV was created to conquer this challenge by providing a lighter, more mobile vehicle with the protection of the larger, heavier, MRAPs.
I had the opportunity to ride in a 4x4 Cougar and the M-ATV Thursday. Fortunately, I had no opportunity to see how either respond to detonations. They are considerably more comfortable than the HMMWV, though. It remains to be seen how well they will meet the competing demands of agility and protection for our troops.