When the the Marines currently stacked up in Afghanistan's Helmand province waiting for a long-planned offensive against the Taliban finally make their move, they'll be coming with a powerful new weapon that looks like a cross between a tank and hell's own backhoe.
The Assault Breacher Vehicle, or ABV, has been in the works since the late 1990s, and it combines the brawn of an Abram's tank and its 1,500 horsepower engine with a specially designed 15-foot wide plow to safely clear the minefields and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that the Taliban have laid around Marjah in preparation for the assault. The heavily armored breacher barely shudders when a typical mine detonates on its plow, and when the plow isn't sufficient for the job, the breachers also carry over 5,000 pounds of specially designed explosives that can be fired into mine fields and safely detonate their deadly contents at a distance.
The behmoths were first rolled into combat service in December, but Marjah promises to be the stiffest challenge yet for a platform that the Marines hope is the latest answer to the mines and other hidden explosives that have proved the greatest dangers to infantry in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In particular, it's expected that they'll reduce the need for combat engineers to make their way into mine fields and set clearing charges by hand.
The $3.75 million machines are so valuable at this point that they aren't operated outside of bases unless an even more powerful tank recovery vehicle – aka a big tow truck – isn't along to drag home the 70-ton breacher if anything goes wrong.
The main body of the breacher is built on the General Dynamics chassis that is used for the Abrams, with Pearson Engineering of the UK providing the specially designed plow and the other mine-clearing accessories that the Marines are looking forward to using in Helmand.
Video of the breacher in action (warning: cheesy rock music accompanies the video).