U.S. Army uses Mack truck chassis for armored vehicles

Mack Trucks is building on a military history that extends to World War I with the U.S. Army’s use of its Granite chassis in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though normally associated with heavy-duty trucks, Mack collaborated with mine-protection company Force Protection to develop a blast-resistant vehicle named “Buffalo.”

Buffalo’s principle purpose is to protect U.S. soldiers from improvised explosive devices often hidden in concrete, trash bags or even dead animals along roadsides in Iraq and Afghanistan. It does this by using a 23-foot-long robotic arm to detect and disable the devices.

“It’s really won over our soldiers,” said Brian Green, project engineer with the U.S. Army close combat system project. “They continue to request additional vehicles.”

Green said Mack was chosen to be the vehicle’s chassis supplier because of the company’s ability to produce durable and reliable off-the-shelf components in a flexible and dependable manner.

Mack provides the Buffalo’s chassis, including all drivetrain components, to Force Protection, which assembles the final vehicle using special armor shaped to exact blast-deflecting angles.

Buffalo is approximately 12 feet high, 28 feet long and weighs 21 tons. It seats five crewmembers.

Green said a number of soldiers have already walked away from significant blasts to the vehicle in combat.

This high degree of protection stems from the design of the crew capsule, which rides high off the ground and inside the wheels. The body of the vehicle is a completely welded unit, which makes it possible to readily switch to new drivetrain components if any are damaged in a blast.

The Buffalo initially used the Mack RD chassis, but switched to the Mack Granite model. The first 10 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.

Mack spokesman John Walsh said despite high demand for its Granite model, the company would provide high priority to additional Buffalo units if required. He declined to discuss further military commitments, though Mack is currently under contract for construction and refuse vehicles.

The Buffalo project began after Force Protection approached Hughes Motors, a Mack dealership in Charleston, S.C. Force Protection was after a chassis that could meet the rigorous demands of the Buffalo mission with minimal modification — turn-around time was critical.

Bill Peek, a Hughes Motors sales representative, Force Protection’s chief engineer Derek Parker and the U.S. Army’s Brian Green then flew to Allentown, Penn., to meet with key Mack personnel and tour the company’s Macungie assembly operations plant.

Tom Kelly, Mack vice president of marketing, said his company is proud to be involved in the Buffalo project.

“It may not have a Bulldog on its hood, but it’s definitely a Mack at heart,” he said.

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at pbeeson@randallpub.com.