June 18, 2005 “Route Irish” is the local name for the heavily travelled, and highly dangerous road between the secure Green Zone in Baghdad and Baghdad International Airport. There have been so many ambushes and IED explosions on that route that all U.S. State Department personnel were forbidden from travelling the route by road last December (2004) and must use helicopters instead. If you don’t have a helicopter at your disposal in Baghdad, as nearly all Military and civilian contractor personnel don’t, there’s really only one certain option if you wish to remain alive and that’s to travel in one of the heavily armoured Rhino Runner buses. Without a shadow of doubt, the Rhino Runner is the toughest bus on the planet – when the human value of the cargo is V.I.P. and above, it is the military’s vehicle of choice to provide safe ground transportation. Regular users of the vehicle in Baghdad include U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, General Dick Myers, Saddam Hussein and all other V.I.P. prisoners. The stories surrounding the massive attacks that Rhino Runners have withstood border on the preposterous.
Manufactured by Labock Technologies, of Florida, the Rhino Runner is a custom, hand-made bus built from chassis up.
The common approach to an armouring solution for buses and minibuses (also SUVs and luxury cars) is to armour existing vehicles. The problem with armouring existing vehicles is obtaining a balance between protection and performance. Therefore, regular armoured buses are only protected against low-level threats, and offer no protection on the roof and floor.
Instead of adapting armouring for an existing vehicle, Labock uses the most appropriate chassis and motors, and custom builds vehicles with protection against AP (armour piercing) bullets and significant bomb blast protection. The Rhino Runner is fully protected (sides, front, back, roof, floor, and even glass) against up to Type IV (NIJ standard) including NATO calibres. All the driver and passenger cabins are built using the company’s special materials and know-how, which is considerable. Amongst other inventions of the company, which was founded by a former Israeli commando just four years ago, are special composite bulletproof armour, which is so light that it floats in water, and one-way bulletproof glass that prevents bullets from getting to you, but enables you to shoot through the glass at those shooting at you.
Rhino Runner busses are available in a range of seating capacities (17, 24 and 36) and configurations for purposes such as prisoner transport, ambulance, SWAT, command and control, and they can be made to order. Apart from the 360 degree ballistic protection, the vehicles have a side and back door and an emergency exit on the roof and run-flat tyres for when changing a tyre just isn’t a viable option.
On November 27, 2004, a convoy of three Rhino Runner buses were midway to the airport on Route Irish when a suicide bomber driving a BMW sedan, heavily laden with explosives, veered in between the lead Rhino Runner, and the second Runner. From a distance of approximately two meters from the second bus, the terrorist detonated the explosives, estimated to be more than 250 pounds in weight. The huge explosion generated a crater more than 6 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep in the asphalt road, and created a dust cloud 1,000 feet long that took several minutes to dissipate.
There were 17 military and civilian contractor passengers, plus a driver, on the second Rhino Runner bus at the time of the explosion. In the face of what veteran Army officers described as a "massive explosion", there were no injuries whatsoever.
An Army Captain with nearly one year's service in Iraq, who has made numerous trips back and forth on this route on Rhino Runners, was on board the second bus that morning, and had this to say in a letter to Labock Technologies: "I am writing you to thank you for saving my life. While travelling to the airport in one of your Runner buses, a civilian vehicle suddenly veered close to my bus, which was very unusual, then cut closely in front of us. Before anyone could react, the driver detonated a huge bomb, and we were engulfed in a large sea of orange flames, and the bus severely rocked.
"I quickly checked the other passengers for injuries, and found them all to be OK, with the exception of some sore ear drums. Area soldiers quickly escorted us from the Runner, and as I left the bus, I saw a large crater, but absolutely no sign of the suicide vehicle - it had been completely obliterated. Soldiers later found the nearly 400 pound engine 100 yards from the explosion site.
"I want to relay my deepest thanks for your employees and their amazing work on the Rhino Runner buses. I am very thankful to be alive, as are the other 17 people on board. I have no doubt that had I been in any other vehicle, the result would have been catastrophically different. My wife and two young daughters are equally grateful. Please post this note where all of your employees can see it, and receive my most humble thanks."