"The only safe way to move troops and diplomats" along the deadliest stretch of road in Iraq "is in convoys of custom-made $275,000 armored buses," Defense News says.
The buses, called "Rhinos," look like something out of The Road Warrior... They roll in the dead of night, escorted by armored Humvees, with the road sealed to all other traffic and AH-64 Apache gunships loitering overhead.The Rhino is all flat slabs of gray or off-white steel (there are two models in service) with passenger windows angled in streamlined fashion, like an old-time Greyhound bus, as the only concession to aesthetics.The beauty of these buses is not in their graceful lines they are as graceful as a refrigerator. Rather, their attractiveness lies in the armor, which covers the sides, tops and bottoms of the five buses in service in Baghdad. Twenty-six passengers ride in relative comfort on functional if not stylish vinyl seats.The buses, each weighing about 13 tons and featuring bullet-resistant glass and 12 gun ports along with all that armor, are manufactured by Weston, Fla.-based Labock Technologies at the companys plant in Ashdod, Israel.Until three months ago, the only safe ways to move diplomats, contractors and others working for the government between the airport and the Green Zone [along "Route Irish" aka "the Road of Death" -- ed.] was by Rhino or helicopter. Now, the helicopters are being used elsewhere, and the only remaining safe ride is on the Rhino...About three months ago, a Rhino took a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade. "Nobody was hurt except for some minor bumps and bruises," said Army Maj. Sharon Smith, of the Joint Area Support Group, who books the Rhino convoys.Rhino maker Labock also claims that "it was the vehicle of choice employed by the military to provide safe ground transportation for the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, and General Dick Myers and his staff while they were visiting Baghdad in may 2004. It is also the vehicle of choice to drive Saddam Hussein and other V.I.P. prisoners between their confinements and the Iraqi Tribunal."THERE'S MORE: For first-hand accounts of folks who've ridden the bus on the Route of Death, check out the comments section.