IN MILITARY TERMS, they're referred to as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs — 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 United States forces pass by. But today, in war-torn areas like Iraq and Afghanistan, Mack know-how is helping to combat these deadly devices.
Initially using the Mack RD chassis, and now the Mack Granite model, the US Army, in conjunction with Force Protection, has developed a blast-resistant vehicle called the Buffalo equipped with, among other features, a 23-foot-long robotic arm to detect and disable IEDs.
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 in 2004. Despite robust demand for its Granite model, Mack indicated that it would give high priority to more Buffalo units if required.
Mack provides the chassis, including all drivetrain components, to Force Protection, which assembles the final vehicle using special armor shaped to exact blast-deflecting angles.
The Buffalo is roughly 12 feet high, 28 feet long, and weighs 21 tons; it seats five. Its hydraulic arm has multiple attachments for scraping and digging, and it can handle intricate tasks, such as removing a blast cap from an IED.
Besides searching for IEDs, the Buffalo can also be equipped with steel wheels for use in clearing anti-personnel mines. This process is straightforward: simply drive and roll over any mines with the steel wheels. The blast-protected vehicle keeps the crew safe.
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. Since the body of the vehicle is a completely welded unit, it is possible to readily switch to new drivetrain components if any are damaged in a blast.
Force Protection initially approached Hughes Motors, a Mack dealership in North Charleston SC. It sought 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 Brian Green then flew to Allentown PA to meet with Mack personnel and tour the Macungie Assembly Operations, where all of the firm's vocational vehicles are produced. It became apparent that Mack could rapidly provide a configuration suited for the application.