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'Buffalo' Finds Explosive Devices, Saves Lives

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 15, 2005 – The U.S. military doesn't have enough explosive ordnance disposal experts to be able to check every suspicious piece of debris here. That's where the "Buffalo" comes in handy.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army 2nd Lt. David Swisher, a platoon leader with the 612th Engineer Battalion, points out damage from an improvised-explosive-device detonation on the side of a mine protective clearance vehicle, or MPCV, which the soldiers call a Buffalo. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, center, and Army Col. Jim Brooks, commander of 3rd Infantry Divisions Maneuver-Enhancement Brigade, look on durng the secretary's April 12 visit to Iraq. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

A heavily armored mine-clearing vehicle with a robotic arm is allowing Army engineers to check suspicious items without calling out a full-fledged EOD team. Officially, the device is called the "mine protective clearance vehicle," or MPCV. "But we just call it the Buffalo," said Army 2nd Lt. David Swisher, a platoon leader with the 612th Engineer Battalion.

On patrols, the engineers scan the sides of roads for anything suspicious. Iraqi insurgents have become adept at disguising roadside bombs -- improvised explosive devices in military parlance -- in harmless -looking items.

When something catches a soldier's eye as suspicious, the patrol will call in the Buffalo to "interrogate" the item. "It goes up there, gets a bird's-eye view of the situation and confirms or denies whether an IED is at that location or not," Swisher explained to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during a briefing April 12. Rumsfeld was in Iraq to meet with local leaders and visit U.S. troops.

The 612th has had good success in finding and disarming IEDs in the three months the unit has been deployed here. As of the date of Rumsfeld's visit, 612th soldiers have identified 75 IEDs, and Swisher's platoon found a "vehicle-concealed IED." The unit also has found 16 pieces of unexploded ordnance and 16 "deliberate fakes."

Army Col. Jim Brooks, commander of 3rd Infantry Division's Maneuver-Enhancement Brigade, explained that enemy insurgents often plant fake IEDs to study how the coalition forces respond.

"They're watching our techniques is what we think they're doing, or trying to delay us while they do something down the road at another point," Brooks said.

Sometimes the deliberate fakes even sport real initiators or blasting caps, Swisher noted. "(The insurgents) see how we react on site, and they learn what we scan and sometimes to see if we even notice," he said.

Swisher showed Rumsfeld some photos of IEDs disguised as normal items that his platoon has discovered. He described one item found in a median as "big inner tube with a bulge."

When the Buffalo interrogated, or examined the item, it was found to have "a remote-controlled initiation device, a long-range radio similar to a Motorola, a motorcycle battery to juice up the charge, an on-off switch, and a washing machine-type failsafe hooked up to a blasting cap." All of this was connected to two 125 mm artillery shells, Swisher said.

During another patrol, Swisher's platoon found a cement bag that was "unusually bulged in the center," he said.

"It was very windy that day, so the bag should have been floating around," Swisher explained. "The claw reached out, ripped the bag open and found a 125 mm projectile remote-controlled device."

The platoon used the Buffalo to render the device safe for an EOD team to come out and safely dispose of it.

The armored Buffalo saves lives because IEDs explode while they're being inspected about 10 percent of the time. The heavy vehicle has provided strong protection from such blasts, even at close range.

Swisher called the vehicle, which operates with a six-man crew, "extremely survivable."

"These vehicles have been hit several times -- small-arms fire, grenades, artillery shells, you name it," he said. "Everything's happened to these vehicles. Windows have been shattered but not compromised. Tires have all been deflated, gouges in the armor, exhaust system replaced.

"And no one inside the Buffalo has ever been hurt," he added.

The Buffalo is manufactured by Force Protection Inc. in Ladson, S.C., on the outskirts of Charleston. The design was modified from a South African mine-clearing vehicle.

Brooks said soldiers are "extremely confident" in the protection the Buffalo provides. "The bottom line is ... they want to ride in this," he said. "And they want to find the IEDs and protect their fellow soldiers."

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