Buffalo (mine protected vehicle)
Force Protection Cougar 6x6
The mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle is an armored truck developed by the U. S. military Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Operation enduring freedom in Afghanistan to protect troops from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). IEDs are field-expedient explosives developed by insurgents or guerrillas from whatever material is available. (A better name might be "homemade bombs.") They can be simple artillery rounds rigged to a detonator that is set off remotely or by physical contact with vehicles or people, preferably enemies of those setting the mines. They can also be very sophisticated devices, with explosives designed to pierce armored vehicles. IEDs have been the cause of almost half the fatalities suffered by U. S. forces in Iraq, while about half the fatalities in Afghanistan have been from IEDs.
While IEDs can sometimes be effective against the Abrams tank and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, they are very highly effective against unarmored transport vehicles. These include the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (Humvee), the modern equivalent of the World War II-era Jeep, and the 2.5- and 5-ton trucks and tanker trucks used to move personnel, ammunition, provisions, and fuel over the extensive roadways of Afghanistan and Iraq. These vehicles were not designed as armored combat vehicles; rather, they were specially designed and reinforced versions of commercial transports for military logistics purposes.
The threat from IEDs led to a program to armor Humvees and other transport vehicles, a program that continues. The basic problem of refitting such vehicles is how to cope with the added weight of the armor without making major modifications to engine power, transmissions, engine cooling, and suspension systems. This has to be balanced with the differences between up-armoring vehicles in the theater of war versus the extended choices of doing so at depots in the United States.
A parallel approach to retrofitting existing vehicles has been the development and fielding of MRAPs to provide better protection for vehicles and crews. MRAPs are wheeled vehicles with a "V" shaped hull and armored plating designed to deflect the impact of IEDs. They were used in small numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 for route clearance and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD). The protection they provided led to the U. S. Department of Defense decision in 2007 to make deployment of MRAPs a high priority.
The resulting program involves three categories of MRAPs based on size and mission. Category I MRAPs are 7 to 15 tons, carrying a crew of two plus four passengers, mainly for urban transportation. Category II vehicles weigh between 15 and 25 tons, carry a crew of two and eight passengers, and are designed for road escort, ambulance, and EOD missions. Category III vehicles weigh 25 tons or more, carry a crew of two plus four passengers, and are designed for EOD missions that require more equipment than can be carried in Category II vehicles. The dimensions and missions have already changed, and will likely be further refined as testing and fielding proceeds.
Several companies, both domestic and foreign, have had various types of vehicles under development or in production, and as the U. S. military began to invest in armored vehicles, many companies competed for the new market, potentially worth several billion dollars. The vehicles are called Cougar, Buffalo, Maxx- Pro, Caiman, and Alpha. The Defense Department continues to prefer referencing the vehicles as Category I, II, and III MRAPs, but the commercial names have also remained, leading to some confusion, as the Cougar and Caiman come in both 4X4 and 6X6 versions. Domestic production companies have included Force Protection Industries, BAE Systems of North America, Navistar subsidiary International Military and Government LLC, Armor Holdings LLC, Oshkosh Truck, General Dynamics, Textron, and Protected Vehicles. Companies in Canada, Germany, Israel, and South Africa have also been involved because they have also been developing new, armored wheeled vehicles.
The designs of the vehicles vary. Some have a one-piece hull and chassis. Others have the hull bolted to the chassis. Some have the "V" shaped armor covering the entire vehicle, while others have that protection only for the crew and passengers. There are variations in mobility both on and off the road, engine size, and dimensions. All have been through extensive tests at Aberdeen Proving Ground and elsewhere, and are being evaluated by in-field performance in Iraq and Afghanistan.
By the end of 2007, the Defense Department had placed orders for 7,774 MRAPs and projected a total requirement of 23,000 if troop levels remained steady in Iraq. By April 2008 there were about 5,000 MRAPs in Iraq, with projections of having about 6,000 by December 2008. Costs through fiscal year 2009 are estimated at $25 billion. Costs are based on the actual cost of the various vehicles, which vary widely even within category, and mode of shipment. The military prefers air transport to bring the vehicles into the war zone, but doing so costs $135,000 for each vehicle, compared with just $18,000 by ship.
Although several vehicle models are in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are three that represent the categories well. Their characteristics demonstrate the flux in the scope of the Defense Department categories in a very short time. For Category I, the Navistar MaxxPro, a model that dominates that category with $3.5 billion in orders, has an 8.7-liter six-cylinder diesel engine that produces 330 horsepower. It is 21 feet long, 8.5 feet wide, and 10 feet high. It weighs 40,000 pounds, has a ground clearance of 11 inches, and carries a 2-man crew and up to 10 passengers. The cost is $549,000.
For Category II, the Force Protection Cougar 6X6 has a 7.2 liter diesel engine that produces 330 horsepower. It is 23 feet long, 8.5 feet wide, and 8.8 feet high. Weighing in at 39,000 pounds, it has a 15-inch ground clearance. It carries a crew of two and eight passengers. Unit cost is $649,000.
The Force Protection Buffalo represents Category III. Its 12-liter six-cylinder diesel engine produces 400 horsepower. It is 27 feet long, 8.25 feet wide, and 13 feet high. The weight is 45,320 pounds, ground clearance is 16 inches, and it has a crew of two plus four passengers. The $855,000 cost includes a remote-controlled external arm to help with EOD. Its large size allows more EOD equipment.
The armored Humvee has a 6.5-liter diesel V-8 engine producing 190 horsepower. It is 16 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 6.25 feet high. It weighs 12,000 pounds and has a ground clearance of 16.8 inches. Carrying four people, its unit cost is $150,000.
It is impossible to determine what the U. S. military, both army and marines, will eventually choose for transport vehicles, both wheeled and tracked, armored or not. It is clear that the decisions will be based not only on testing in the United States but also on performance of the many versions of transport vehicles. They will be expected to perform in the varied terrain presented by Iraq and Afghanistan, which ranges from desert to densely populated urban areas and from sea level to mountain ranges higher than any in the continental United States, with climates of intense heat to below zero temperatures and widely different challenges posed by rain, snow, drought, and blinding sandstorms. Ground clearance will be a critical factor for off-road travel. Size will be important not only for maneuverability in crowed urban areas but for transport to the field of battle, especially by air. The height of the vehicles will be important as bigger targets are more vulnerable to attack from armor-piercing rounds from rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and other weapons. If applied with thought, the lessons learned from actual combat in Iraq and Afghanistan should lead to a U. S. military equipped with the best possible range of transport vehicles for future challenges.
References Dixon, Chris. "Blast Proof Wheels for the Mean Streets of War Zones." New York Times, February 24, 2008. Feickert, Andrew. Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected (MRAP) Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 2007. Schwartz, General Norton A. Statement before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office, September 27, 2007.