I am a big fan of the Transformers â" the comics, the series and the movie trilogy. In fact when I was a kid I even played around inside a Transformers' tent. I just love seeing the two warring alien robot species - Autobots and Decepticons - fighting each other while otherwise being in the guise of machines - cool supercars, superbikes, trucks and huge military vehicles. But what has that got to do with the vehicle you see here? Well it looks and reminds me of the Decepticon 'Bonecrusher' from the movie. To my surprise, the Mine Protected Vehicle India (MPVi) as it's called, is partly developed by the same people who were responsible for the vehicle used in that Hollywood flick, how cool is that! When Sirish asked me if I wanted to drive the MPVi, I couldn't wait to take on the bad guy. Or is he the good guy?
The trucks that the armed forces currently go across minefields in has a unique testing procedure. A pig is strapped onto the truck which is then subjected to a mine blast in a military facility. If the pig survives then the truck is deemed fit to venture into the most dangerous regions in the country. Or so the story goes. But either or, the Indian jawans desperately deserve better protection and this is where the MPVi steps in. The vehicle has been developed by Defence Land Systems India (DLSI) - a joint venture between Mahindra & Mahindra and BAE systems. DLSI manufactures various other vehicles such as the Mahindra Rakshak, Marksman (used by the Mumbai police) and the Rapid Intervention Vehicle.
The MPVi is based on a URAL 5730, a cab with a bare chassis and powertrain manufactured by Uralaz of Russia and supplied by URAL India. The folks at DLSI chop the chassis and use it only for the driveline. Special armoured steel is used for the MPVi's protective body that comes from Sweden while the body itself is built on a monocoque shell that is imported as a kit from South Africa. The fuel tank is protected by explosive suppression material to prevent it from blowing up during an explosion. The MPVi runs on 425-section run flat tyres mounted on 21-inch wheels. The other parts such as the doors and bonnet are also made of armoured steel. The whole process takes time, DLSI assembles these parts together at their plant in Faridabad and have a total capacity to manufacture 100 MPVis per year.
The MPVi is powered by a V6, turbodiesel engine of classified displacement that produces a maximum power of 230PS at 2100rpm and a massive 830Nm of torque available from 1100-1200rpm. However all that armoured steel increases the weight, the MPVi weighs almost 14 tonnes but is still capable of maxing out at an impressive 100kmph.
There is no driver's door. You have to enter the vehicle from the back to get to the driver's seat. The passenger cabin can seat 16 soldiers along with their combat loads. This is besides the driver and the co-driver. And there's air-conditioning!
Now to get to the science. How does this vehicle protect someone from a mine explosion? The monocoque shell is V shaped from the bottom, this helps in directing the explosion away from the occupants. Needless to say, I couldn't test this but the MPVi has been tested in South Africa using million dollar mannequins and is capable of withstanding a 21kg TNT blast (equivalent to three anti-tank mines) under any wheel and a 14kg TNT blast (two anti-tank mines) under the shell.
It can also take various armour rounds such as an AK and Nato ball round from all sides. All this makes it the highest available protection among mine protected vehicles in India.
Now you would think that windows in such a vehicle would be a bad idea. But this baby has that covered, literally. The windows, all ten of them, are constructed of hardened bullet proof glass materials, so that the driver and troops have an all round field of vision, giving them a great situational awareness and allows them to know when it is safe to disembark the vehicle, further enhancing their safety. To shoot from inside, there are 16 firing ports below the side windows and four openings in the roof.
The driver only gets a small windshield that seems enough while the steering wheel is the biggest I've ever come across and is slightly offset to the driver seat. The dials and control panel have some cool Russian lettering as they have been carried over from the URAL cabin.
When you start the engine its the sound that grabs your attention. Its sounds like a Arnold Schwarzenegger sized bee on testosterone. The buzz is so loud that it drowns out even your own thoughts. This is because the cabin is heavily insulated. In fact the insulation is so thick that, even with the engine switched off, you would still strain to hear someone yelling at you from the outside.
The engine is mated to a 5-speed gearbox, the gears have really long throws. The clutch is surprisingly not heavy. I started the engine, put it into gear and all I had to do was take my foot off the clutch pedal and the beast rolled into motion. The feeling is surreal, nothing like I have ever experienced before. You feel indestructible.
And it has power steering. The MPVi is normally driven in 4x4 mode with the power coming from the rear wheels and when the situation arises one can switch to 6x6 mode which other Indian made mine protected vehicles manufactured by Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland do not have.
Driving the MPVi was quite an experience and it seems like the perfect vehicle to transport our nation's hardworking jawans, the true heroes. The MPVi is rather expensive at approximately ` 1 crore but you can't haggle about the price for a product which saves the lives of our soldiers. Starting this month the first batch of these vehicles will be delivered to the Jharkand police to counter those life threatening land mines. Mahindra is also looking at exporting this beast. Come to think about it, the MPVi may look like a Decepticon but is actually an Autobot.