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Armor: The Corps Craves More Cougars
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January 28, 2007: The U.S. Marine Corps wants to get 3,000 more "bomb resistant vehicles," in addition to the 1,022 is already getting (and will have all of by the end of the year). 

Most of these bomb resistant vehicles are called Cougars, and the marines want to replace armored hummers with Cougars in the most dangerous jobs. Troops in Cougars are safer than those in hummers. But the Cougar, and larger Buffalo, are more expensive to operate, and less flexible than the hummer. 

The Cougar and Buffalo vehicles use a capsule design to protect the passengers and key vehicle components mines and roadside bombs. The bulletproof Cougars and Buffalos are built using the same construction techniques pioneered by South African firms that have, over the years, delivered over 14,000 landmine resistant vehicles to the South African armed forces. The South African technology was imported into the U.S. in 1998, and has already been used in the design of vehicles used by peacekeepers in the Balkans.

The 7-12 ton Cougar also has a version called JERRV (joint explosive ordnance disposal rapid response Vehicles). Basically, JERRV is a 12 ton truck that is hardened to survive bombs and mines. The Cougar can get engineers into combat situations where mines, explosives or any kind of obstacle, have to be cleared. The Cougar comes in two basic versions. The four wheel one can carry ten passengers, the six wheel one can carry 16. The trucks cost about $730,000 each, fully equipped. 

About 20 percent of these bomb-resistant wheeled vehicles are Buffalos. This is a 23 ton vehicle, which is actually a heavily modified Peterbuilt Mac-10 truck. Costing $740,000 each, they have added armor protection to keep out machine-gun bullets. All this protection enables the vehicle to survive mines (or bombs). The Buffalo clears mines using a roller that it pushes in front of it, detonating the mines without taking any damage. The 27 foot long Buffalo can also detect anti-tank mines, for later clearing. It's sensors can do this with a 90 percent accuracy (it will generate false positives as well). While top speed is 105 kilometers an hour, when detecting or clearing mines, it moves at about five kilometers an hour. The Buffalo has a five man crew.

The Buffalo is a specialized route clearing vehicle, while the Cougar is more of a hummer replacement. However, outside of Iraq, where roadside bombs are so common, the Cougar would be more expensive to maintain and operate than the hummer. The Cougar has more space inside, but that's because it's a larger, and more expensive, vehicle. But if you are likely to encounter a roadside bomb, a Cougar is the safest ride.

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