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Armored Cars: General Dynamics Cougar

April 18, 2015

US General Dynamics Cougar MRAP 03

The Cougar is the most battle-tested and combat-proven MRAP in the world. Like the Navistar MaxxPro, the Cougar saw extensive use in Iraq and Afghanistan, possibly saving countless lives thanks to its robust protection. (The official Pentagon figure is 40,000 enlisted men and women.) The US Marine Corps was its first customer and several thousand have been manufactured since 2002.

The Cougar’s impeccable track record is proof that innovation comes from left field. Unlike expensive procurement programs involving defense contractors, the Cougar was an R&D project of Force Protection Inc., an armored car manufacturer from South Carolina that flourished during the War on Terror’s heyday. By 2004 the Cougar was in Iraq as a viable replacement for the vulnerable Humvee.

As one of the earliest–if not the earliest–MRAP deployed by US forces, the Cougar’s specifications today seem unremarkable. A V-hull and runflat tires made it ideal for resisting mine and IED blasts, but its armor wasn’t impervious to large caliber rounds. Not designed for amphibious crossings the Cougar can drive across water obstacles three feet deep.

At a time when autonomous turrets are ubiquitous, the Cougar’s original armament was a light machine gun above its roof hatch. Meant to preserve lives, the Cougar’s usefulness as a fighting vehicle is limited–it doesn’t even have firing ports–compared to current generation armored cars. Although various turret mounts are now available to buyers.

Its original 4×4 variant was a 38,000 lb or 18 ton beast impervious to most small arms fire. But it does need additional layers of protection to deflect 12.7mm heavy machine gun rounds and shaped warheads. Despite its heft the Cougar can be flown into theater via C-5 or C-17 transport. (Perhaps even by the Russian IL-76 if it’s ever used by private security contractors.)

The Cougar runs on a 370 horsepower Caterpillar C7 diesel engine, which is above average for MRAPs whose engines are often in the 250-300 hp range. Its top speed is 75 kilometers per hour and its maximum range is 676 kilometers on a full tank.

Force Protection Inc.’s success with the Cougar resulted in its 2011 acquisition by General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) for $360 million. GDLS is the manufacturer of the M1A2 Abrams and the Stryker 8×8 vehicle family. The Cougar is now part of an MRAP family that includes a 6×6 mine-clearer, the Buffalo, and a 4×4 armored truck called the International Light Armored Vehicle or ILAV. The Cougar is also available as a 6×6, allowing it to carry 12 passengers who enter via twin rear swing doors.

Despite its reputation for toughness the Cougar faces an uncertain future. Thousands have been left behind in the Middle East. Between 2013 and 2014 the Cougar was decommissioned by the US Army, whose vast fleet of 25,000 MRAPs are mostly redundant. Aside from the UK, where it’s known as the Mastiff and Ridgeback, there are few interested customers for the Cougar in today’s flooded MRAP market.

But the Cougar’s reputation is intact. At least a dozen countries use the Cougar in limited numbers. In January 2015 the Pentagon had 250 surplus Cougar MRAPs sent to Iraq as military aid.