August 23, 2004
Since March, 2003, army mechanics in Iraq and Kuwait have installed 8,000 armor kits, 2,000 aid conditioners and 4,500 bulletproof windshields in trucks and hummers. The units that do this work are sometimes called Mad Max Shops (after the armored vehicles in the Mel Gibson movie of the same name.) The mechanics also do all sorts of modifications, many of them experimental (some work, some dont). The Mad Max Shops work at night, as the metal becomes too hot to pick up and handle by day. The preferred material for armoring vehicles is a Swedish steel/nickel/chromium alloy called Hardox 400. It costs $1,200 a (40x120 inch) sheet, but is popular because the 10mm thick steel is really good at stopping bullets and bomb blast fragments. There are also commercial armoring kits, and bullet and blast resistant stick-on material. But the Hardox 400 armor is preferred. This corrosion and wear resistant metal was developed for industrial uses, and not only is tough, but looks and feels tough. The Mad Max shops stay in business because they can do custom work, and basically solve protection problems that armored kits or stick-on materials cannot. This is especially the case with outsize vehicles, like heavy trucks and tank transporters. The Mad Max mechanics can cut Hardox steel to fit just about anything.
Other equipment mods are made in these shops as well. Some large trucks are fitted with battering rams, the better to plow through roadblocks that attempt to halt a convoy in an ambush. Fence like structure are sometimes installed, to protect against RPG warheads. There are still several thousand vehicles equipped with BFT (Blue Force Tracker). This system, so useful during the initial invasion of Iraq, continues to save lives by allowing users to instantly know where other BFT equipped vehicles are, and to IM (Instant Message) them. The BFT equipment requires maintenance, and the installation of upgrades. But it is seen as a really useful, and often lifesaving, piece of equipment. When the radios dont work, BFT usually will (because it uses a satellite phone link).