Armor: Bomb Proof SUVs For Commandos

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August 3, 2016: An American firm, Battelle, has received another contract to convert commercial trucks and SUVs for combat use by the American military, especially SOCOM (Special Operations Command). The new contract will cover conversion of over 500 vehicles. These include pickup trucks, vans, SUVs and recreational (dune buggies and such) vehicles. The military calls these armored vehicles NSCVs (Non Standard Commercial Vehicles).

Turning a civilian sedan or SUV into an armored vehicle is a labor-intensive job and military requirements are more demanding than for the versions civilians buy. For all versions you begin by stripping the vehicle down to the bare frame. Then you install Kevlar and steel plate armor and bullet-proof glass. The standard tires are replaced with run-flat models. The additional weight (up to a ton or more) requires the installation of enhanced shocks and a more powerful engine. It takes a 200-300 kg (220-440 pounds) of armor to provide protection from pistol bullets. Protection from rifle bullets requires half a ton. For protection against heavy machine-gun (12.7mm) and bombs, you need a ton or more. The first armor kits for military vehicles, like the hummer, weighed a ton. Soon that was up to two tons. The additional load on the Sentinel is 1.5 tons, which is enough armor to stop heavy machine-gun bullets.

Once you have put the newly armored vehicle back together, you have to make more modifications to insure that the vehicle has the same handling characteristics as before the extra weight was added. This is crucial so that your driver does not have to learn new driving techniques to handle the rapid maneuvers needed to escape an ambush. You also want the armored car to move like an unarmored one, so it's not obvious that the vehicle is armored.

Since September 11, 2001 there has been a sharp increase in the use of such bullet proof automobiles for commercial customers. The wealthy are buying most of them. Usually they are modified SUVs and sedans and there are now many car dealerships specializing in these vehicles. For a few years most U.S armored car shops were working at near capacity. This provided an opportunity for automotive specialty shops in other nations to get into the business. The vehicles must, at a minimum, be protected against pistol bullets. But most now are resistant to sniper and assault rifles. Some manufacturers will also build vehicles that provide some protection from roadside bombs.

Some manufacturers began offering factory installed protection. For example in 2010 Jaguar, the luxury car manufacturer, developed an armored version of its XJ series sedan (the XJ Sentinel). The unarmored XJ weighs 1.8 tons, while the armored version weighs 3.3 tons (plus up to half a ton of passengers and whatnot). The four door Jaguar XJ Sentinel is bullet proof, can handle a bomb with up to 15 kg (33 pounds) as well as grenades thrown underneath the vehicle. This is military grade protection, which at that time was rare for commercial customers. The armored version of the XJ has a more powerful engine, brakes and suspension to handle the additional weight. The XJ Sentinel can accelerate to 100 kilometers an hour in 9.7 seconds and has a top speed of 194 kilometers an hour. The unarmored XJ model Jaguar goes for about $67,000 in 2010. Jaguar does not advertise the price for the Sentinel, but armoring typically doubles (or triples) the cost of a car in this price range and Jaguar will customize the XJ Sentinel to suit specific customer requests. Thus it is believed that this version of the XJ goes for $200,000 or more. It depends on how elaborate the security features are. The Sentinel has run flat tires and some additional electronic options. Jaguar is now owned by Tata Motors, the largest automobile manufacturer in India.

At the very high end there is Carat 65 Bentley Mulsanne. Bentley is the slightly less expensive cousin of the Rolls Royce and made by the same firm. The Carat 65 goes for over $2 million each, which is expensive even by Rolls Royce standards.

 


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