Special Operations: ATVs All Around In Afghanistan

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November 9, 2013: U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has ordered more MAZR2 and MAZR4 ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) for their operations in remote areas. The MAZR2 is a 1.1 ton (loaded with nearly 450 kg of fuel, passengers, and cargo) 4x4 vehicle. It is 3 meters (9.1 feet) long and has no doors, two seats, and a steel framework on top of which is usually left open for maximum visibility. The vehicle is optimized for cross country operations and has an 88 horsepower engine. Fuel capacity is 7.25 gallons (27.4 liters) and range depends on what sort of terrain is being crossed.

The MAZR4 is a larger MAZR2 that weighs 1.5 tons (loaded with nearly 700 kg of fuel, passengers, and cargo) and is also a 4x4 vehicle. It is 3.6 meters (11.8 feet) long and has no doors, four seats, and a steel framework on top which is usually left open for maximum visibility. The vehicle is optimized for cross country operations and also has an 88 horsepower engine. Fuel capacity is 7.25 gallons (27.4 liters) and range depends on what sort of terrain is being crossed.

Both MAZRs can tow a load of up to 680 kg. SOCOM does not release data on how many ATVs (or most other equipment) it buys.

ATVs have proved particularly useful, and popular, in Afghanistan, especially for special operations forces. There are many models in use, all of them militarized civilian vehicles. These vehicles are innovative both in original concept and how they are constantly modified and upgraded. The latest innovation is the use of non-pneumatic tires. The non-pneumatic tires are not solid like traditional tires but built with a web of plastic honeycomb and surrounded by a thick band of rubber that is very similar to the tread found on pneumatic tires. These tires can survive a hit by a 12.7mm (.50 caliber) bullet and keep going. They feel about the same as pneumatic tires, although some users report they are not as effective in mud or watery surfaces.

The non-pneumatic tires first appeared as optional equipment for the MV850 ATV. This is an 800 kg (1,800 pound) 4x4 vehicle with the largest cargo carrying capacity (385 kg/850 pounds) of any vehicle in its class. It is a compact vehicle at 242.3x120.1x152.4cm (94.5x47.3x60 inches). It can also haul a trailer carrying 680 kg (1,500 pounds). Top speed is 83 kilometers an hour. MV850 and the MAZRs are made by Polaris, a company that has been supplying SOCOM with ATVs for over a decade.

The U.S. Department of Defense has been buying ATVs for American troops in Afghanistan for as long as SOCOM has been there. One of the more popular models was the Ranger, which is a militarized ATV that is 2.9 meters (9 feet) long, 1.6 meters (5 feet) wide, weighs 760 kg, and can carry nearly as much. There are two seats and a rear deck that can hold up to half a ton of cargo. The top speed of 67 kilometers an hour and the ability to ford 76 cm (30 inches) of water contributes to excellent cross country performance. A 49 liter (13 gallon) fuel tank gives the Ranger a range of 500 kilometers or more, depending on how much time is spent off-roads. The Ranger engine burns military JP8 fuel and generates 40 horsepower. The Ranger began arriving in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2006, initially for use by light infantry and commandos. Troop reaction was positive. While SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has long been a user of various ATVs, that use became more visible in Afghanistan and led to regular army units getting the ATVs, mostly for hauling gear around remote outposts. ATVs could be flown in slung under a helicopter. The ATVs were often used to collect air dropped supplies that, because of the often unpredictable winds, fell far from the base.

The British used a militarized versions of the Yamaha Grizzly 450. Basically the Grizzly is a four wheel, 285 kg (628 pound) cross country motorcycle. This ATV is 2.73 meters (6 feet) long and 1.1 meters (3.5 feet) wide. In addition to the driver, there are racks on the bike that can carry another 80 kg (175 pounds). Grizzly can tow a trailer carrying another 159 kg (350 pounds) of cargo. Top speed, on a flat surface, without a trailer, is about 75 kilometers an hour. Cross country, it's usually about half that and a bit less if a trailer is being hauled. The British Army bought 250 of the Grizzly 450s in 2005, and these were very popular with the troops in Afghanistan. There they are used for patrolling and hauling supplies to troops in isolated positions. The British paid $41,000 for each bike, although that includes a trailer, spare parts, and technical services. The civilian version goes for about $8,000 each.

The ATVs have been so popular that many troops have bought them when they get back home and use them for cross-country trips (for camping, hunting, or just sightseeing). The army has bought some of these ATVs for use by troops just returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. It's the kind of high-excitement recreation that has been found to help the troops decompress after returning from a combat tour.

 

 


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