Procurement: Gimme Five Billion Bucks Worth of Armored Trucks

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April 4, 2007: The U.S. military is facing a difficult procurement decision. In an effort to reduce casualties from roadside bombs, the army and marines are asking for money to buy nearly 7,000 bomb resistant vehicles. There are already some two thousand of these vehicles in use, mainly by bomb disposal troops, and units operating in areas almost certain to have lots of roadside bombs. People in bomb resistant vehicles are much less likely to be killed or injured if they encounter a roadside bomb. Thus if all the troops who encountered these bombs were instead in a bomb resistant vehicle, casualties would be about 65 percent less. About half the casualties in Iraq are from roadside bombs. Thus the army and marines want to use these vehicles in areas most likely to have bombs, and reduce overall casualties by about a third.

But this will be expensive. The bomb resistant vehicles cost about five times more than armored hummers or trucks. Thus the 6,700 bomb resistant vehicles will cost nearly five billion dollars. But these vehicles would prevent about a hundred troops a month from getting killed or wounded. The most common of these bomb resistant vehicles are called Cougars. 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 current 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. The Buffalo clears mines using a roller that it pushes in front of it, detonating the mines without taking any damage. 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 does have more space inside. Once out of Iraq, the military would not need all these Cougar and Buffalo vehicles. The intensity of roadside bomb use is unique to Iraq. But vehicles like the Cougar and Buffalo are popular with many NGOs, and nations that have problems with rebel movements. So the U.S. could probably sell most of them, at used vehicle prices, to those buyers.

 


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