Troops get first look at new vehicle

Staring out the windshield of the Army's Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle is a bit like looking out of a jailhouse window.


A metal cage surrounds the tan behemoth's four sides. These bars are less about keeping people in than keeping explosives out.

Necessitated by the cheap, lethal use of roadside bombs and rocket propelled grenades in Iraq, the MRAP is America's answer to the enemy's most deadly tactic. It is designed to shield troops from blasts and to allow them to move and detonate a roadside bomb from inside the vehicle.

With the end of combat operations in Iraq and the start of a gradual drawdown of troops from Afghanistan later this year, however, the future of the MRAP is uncertain.

Officials have ordered the MRAP to be integrated into the Army's main force, so Maj. Darrell Rasor was standing outside the 54,000-pound armored machine in a Fort Gordon parking lot Monday.

"As we're drawing down forces in Iraq, we're going through the next evolution," said Rasor, a student in the Army's Command and General Staff College. "We've got so many of these vehicles. What do we do with it?"

So far, Rasor's class, which is doing a case study on the MRAP, believes the vehicle could be used to bridge the gap between the Army's Bradley Fighting Vehicle and a more modern troop carrier.

"We need a vehicle in the interim," he said.

This version of the MRAP is called the "Buffalo" and is built in South Carolina by Force Protection Industries Inc.

Abraham White, who works for the contractor, introduces the Buffalo to curious Fort Gordon troops with the enthusiasm of a new-car dealer. Automatic fire-extinguishing systems, rifle holders and a 30-foot, remote-controlled arm nicknamed the "spork" take the place of the leather seating or GPS systems a civilian dealer might highlight.

"This is like the Cadillac of MRAP," White tells them.

The vehicle's 440-horsepower engine is an easy crowd-pleaser.

"We set it at 65 (mph) but it will run 85 or 90 easy," he said, eliciting smiles from the five soldiers seated in the machine's cabin.

Other features of the MRAP aren't as obvious. The whole vehicle has a V-shape hull to direct the force of an explosion -- say, from an improvised explosive device detonated underneath -- away from the soldiers inside.

Six escape hatches, one for each member of the crew, are built into the roof. Spongy, fire-proof padding lines the interior.

The vehicle's remote arm comes equipped with video cameras and a high-powered air gun, which can blow debris off the top of a buried roadside bomb.

Scott Swartzwelter, the Buffalo's program director at Force Protection Industries, said it has built 400 of this particular type of MRAP for the Army. That number will likely rise to 500 by year's end.


The enemy's deadly weapon

Roadside bombs are homemade explosives that are sometimes made out of conventional military explosives.

Often, they are hidden along roads by insurgents. Roadside bombs killed 268 American troops in Afghanistan last year, according to recently released United States defense figures. That is a 60 percent increase over the previous year, which officials attributed to the surge of American forces in the country. In all, 619 U.S. troops have been killed and 5,764 more have been wounded in roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan since the invasion in October 2001. In all, at least 1,370 troops have been killed there.

Visit Force Protection Industries Inc.'s Web site to learn more about the vehicle: