LEHIGH VALLEY, Penn. – Mack chassis are being used to help keep soldiers safe in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Initially using the Mack RD chassis, and now the Mack Granite model, the U.S. Army, in conjunction with Force Protection, has developed a state-of-the-art blast resistant vehicle called the Buffalo equipped with, among other features, a 23-foot long robotic arm to detect and disable IEDs.
IEDs are improvised explosive devices – munitions packed into pieces of seemingly innocuous piles of concrete, trash bags, or even dead animal carcasses along the side of the road, waiting to be remotely triggered when U.S. forces pass by.
The first 10 Buffalo vehicles on the RD chassis were produced in 2003 – seven for use in Iraq and three in Afghanistan. Twenty-five more using the Granite model were requested last year. And despite robust current demand for its Granite model, Mack indicated that it would provide high priority to additional Buffalo units if required.
Mack provides the chassis, including all drivetrain components, to Force Protection, which assembles the final vehicle using special armour shaped to exact blast-deflecting angles.
“We needed a truck manufacturer who could supply highly durable and reliable drivetrain components off-the-shelf in a flexible and timely manner,” said Brian Green, project engineer with the U.S. Army Project Manager for Close Combat Systems. “And Mack has and continues to do just that.”
The Buffalo is roughly 12 feet high, 28 feet long and weighs 21 tonnes. In it are seats for five crew people. Its hydraulic arm has multiple attachments for scraping and digging. It can also handle intricate tasks, like removing a blast cap from an IED.
In addition to searching for IEDs, the Buffalo can also be equipped with steel wheels for use in clearing anti-personnel mines. The process for doing so is straightforward – simply drive and roll over any mines with the steel wheels. The blast-protected vehicle keeps the crew safe. The Army’s Green emphasized that soldiers have already walked away from a number of significant blasts involving Buffaloes.
The shape of the Buffalo crew capsule is particularly critical. It is designed to distribute the force of a blast around the crew compartment, which rides high off the ground and inside the wheels. And the fact that the body of the vehicle is a completely welded unit makes it possible to readily switch to new drivetrain components if any are damaged in a blast.
The reaction from troops using the Buffalo in the field has been very positive.
“It’s really won over our soldiers,” Green added. “In addition to the ballistic protection, they appreciate the height of the vehicle as well as the capability the arm provides. They continue to request additional vehicles.”
Force Protection initially approached Hughes Motors, a Mack dealership in North Charleston, South Carolina. They were after a chassis that could meet the rigorous demands of the Buffalo mission with minimal modification – because turn-around time was critical. Bill Peek, a Hughes Motors sales representative, Force Protection’s chief engineer Derek Parker, and the Army’s Green then flew to Allentown, Pennsylvania, to meet with key Mack personnel and tour the Macungie Assembly Operations, where all of the company’s vocational vehicles are produced. It quickly became apparent to everyone involved that Mack could rapidly provide a configuration ideally suited for the application.
“We are very proud to be involved in this effort,” said Tom Kelly, Mack vice-president of marketing. “The Buffalo project gives us the opportunity to use Mack know-how to support our troops. It may not have a Bulldog on its hood, but it’s definitely a Mack at heart.”
Mack plans to have information about the Buffalo project available in its booth (S-8905) at the upcoming CONEXPO-CON/AGG show in Las Vegas (March 15-19).
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