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How U.S. Special Operations Forces Get Their Armored Pickups

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U.S. special operation forces don’t just ride around in any old truck. Their unique vehicles, which may appear normal from the outside, are anything but usual. A new video emerged on YouTube which shows how one company takes civilian pickup trucks and SUVs common in combat zones and turns them into undercover rides for the CIA, Delta Force, Navy SEALs, Green Berets and other operators. The vehicles are stripped down and then built back up again with special mission equipment and up to a ton of armor plating, all of it nigh invisible to the untrained eye.

Vehicles and SUV like Toyota Hilux pickup trucks and Series 70 Land Cruisers are extremely common in the Third World, often used cast-offs from wealthier Western countries and Japan. The difference between a Toyota Land Cruiser driven by a SEAL and by a local warlord, however, is about 3,500 pounds of hidden equipment, including armor, reinforced struts and suspension, tactical equipment, and an electrical system that can drive high power electronics.

Battelle, an applied sciences and technology company based in Columbus, Ohio has put out a video explaining how it turns ordinary vehicles into extraordinary ones. According to the company, it’s been creating what it calls “non-standard commercial vehicles” since 2004.

Battelle sources Toyota Hilux pickup trucks and Toyota Land Cruiser sport utility vehicles, as well as Ford Ranger pickups as a baseline to create their “non-standard” vehicles. As part of the design process, Battelle company creates CAD models of the models they modify. It also stripped them down to understand how the parts interrelate, and how modifying one part of the truck could impact another—and the truck as a whole. Adding nearly two extra tons that permanently reside on the vehicle makes a Toyota Hilux that weighs 8,500 pounds stock. Out in the field, that new vehicle will routinely carry an extra ton of people, weapons, and supplies across dangerous territory.

us special forces in syria - How U.S. Special Operations Forces Get Their Armored Pickups

US special forces soldier with Hilux truck. Taqba, Syria, 2017. (Photo: Getty Images)

The vehicles are stripped down and individual parts modified with the new equipment. Battelle company outfits vehicles with about a ton of extra armor, slipped between the vehicle frame and interior, out of sight and out of mind. (Interestingly, the video is intentionally blurred when the cabin roof armor is installed.) For doors, that means bullet-resistant glass and armor plating.

Other major upgrades are carefully hidden under vehicle interiors. The electrical system also appears to be upgraded to handle power draws such as satellite radios, land navigation and tracker systems, long-range surveillance system, and other equipment. A steel push bumper, designed to encourage other vehicles to get out of the way, is hidden behind the face bar. Holding it all up are beefier shock absorbers and springs and a reinforced metal frame. Although the video doesn’t mention it, a 2016 report mentions the vehicles are also fitted with run-flat tires designed to keep them rolling even with tire damage.

In 2016, Battelle company won a $170 million contract from U.S. Special Operations Command to build up to 556 Non-Standard Commercial Vehicles. That comes out to $305,000 per vehicle—a pretty good deal for an armored workhorse that can blend in with local vehicles.

US soldier with armored vehicle - How U.S. Special Operations Forces Get Their Armored Pickups

US Soldier in front of armored SUV (Photo: Getty Images)

One of the places where these vehicles have been deployed was Syria, in the fight against the Islamic State. Several photos of U.S. special operations forces standing conspicuously near Toyota Hiluxes and Toyota Land Cruisers have filtered out, some with curiously blue-tinted windows, a tipoff that the glass is armored, and the exact same model roof rack Battelle company mounts on their modified vehicles.

Perhaps not surprisingly the Islamic State itself used similar vehicles, particularly Toyota Hiluxes, to the point where the U.S. Department of Treasury was investigating how terrorists got their hands on so many of them (brand new models).

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Special vehicles

Yagu – An Ultralight Special Ops Armored Vehicle

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Plasan unveiled today it’s all-new, lightweight protected vehicle – Yagu at Expo Seguridad event in Mexico City this week. In fact, Plasan transformed the 767 kg commercial Arctic Cat Wildcat 4 1000 four-seat all-terrain vehicle into a 1.48-ton (dry weight) fully-protected assault vehicle.

The vehicle is designed to behave like an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) but offers its crew of three persons the all-around 360 ballistic protection at a level of B6+ (similar to STANAG 4569 Level II) effective against 5.56X45, 7.62X39 and 7.62×51 threats. WIth front and side windows and all-round cameras the protected capsule provides excellent situational awareness and response, using an overhead ultra-light remotely operated weapon, that mounts a 5.56 or 7.62 machine gun and EO sensors operated by the crew from within the air-conditioned, armored capsule. The vehicle can also be equipped with a drone launching system, that can operate airborne for 27 minutes. With automatic target tracking features the drone provides enhanced situational awareness for the crew.

The air-transportable Yagu is positioned to meet the needs of special operations, border patrols, urban warfare as well as special missions in crime-fighting, where light and agile platforms are required. According to Plasan, Yagu provides such high protection level at an exceptionally low weight. As its outdoors sibling, Yagu can move on rocky and muddy terrain, on sand dunes and in forest environments, climbing extreme sloping roads. In urban scenes Yagu’s compact size comes handy, as it is able to move through narrow passages (its width is merely 162 cm), crossing jammed or blocked roads on sidewalks and stairs.

yagu 1 - Yagu – An Ultralight Special Ops Armored Vehicle

One of the Yagu advantages is the use General Robotics Pitbull – an ultralight remotely operated weapon station, integrating hostile fire and anti-drone, ‘point and shoot’, and remote control functions. Photo: Plasan

Even with full armor, three fully equipped troops and 350 kg payload (a gross vehicle weight of more than five tons!), Yagu maintains a power/weight ratio in excess of 53 HP/Ton, thus maintaining much of the agility and mobility of the Wildcat. The platform retains the original 1000 H2 V- Twin, S0HC 4 – stroke, 4 – valve w/EFI 951cc engine with electronic fuel injection, coupled to an automatic transmission with HI/LO gear, 2 or 4 wheel drive and the long-travel front and rear suspension used in the original Wildcat. To support the added weight and improve mobility, Yagu uses bigger tires (28 X 10r14 instead of the civilian version’s 26x9R14 and 26x11R14).

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Special vehicles

The ultimate Polaris ATVs for special operations

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Polaris MRZR D4 ATV - The ultimate Polaris ATVs for special operations

There are various vehicles in service within U.S. Special Operations Command but the ultimate ATVs are among most popular. SOF ATVs are heavily mobile all-terrain vehicles capable of carrying a significant amount of payload.

The combat-ready Special Forces ATVs gives the ultimate in traction, gripping the terrain to take operators through the corners, whoops and loose sand. It’s the reliable responding combat system especially for long reconnaissance mission which requires power to all 4 wheels.

Polaris MRZR D4 ATV combat - The ultimate Polaris ATVs for special operations

Polaris MRZR-D4 ATV with operators on board (Photo: Polaris)

You might not be surprised to learn that Marine and Army tactical ground units have been using lightly militarized all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) for years. But you might raise an eyebrow at the way Marines think of ATVs. While personal four-wheeler might be a treasured possession, the military is ready to blow up its ATVs at any time.

Marines bought a 144 Polaris ATVs called the Utility Task Vehicle (UTV), it is a version of the vehicle already in use by U.S. Special Operations Command, but is designed to be diesel-powered and can run on JP-8 fuel. The Marines bought the ATVs because they can fit inside an MV-22 Osprey, enabling them to be deployed from long distances, to provide logistics support to ground combat units, assisting them to travel and transport supplies quicker and easier than previously on foot. Usually, combat-ready SOF ATVs can carry four troops and have a small cargo bed capable of carrying around 1,500 lb (680 kg) of payload, depends on the version.

SOF ATVs are typically configured with infrared filters over the headlamps for operation with night vision devices and brackets for holding M4a1 carbines. For example, the Polaris RZR 800, is classified as a Light Tactical All Terrain Vehicle, or LTATV, due to its side-by-side seating configuration.

Polaris MRZR D4 ATV SOF - The ultimate Polaris ATVs for special operations

Polaris MRZR-D4 ATV (Photo: Polaris)

The U.S. Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division dropped 10 MRZRs when it jumped into Poland in June 2016 as part of an exercise to test their ability to bolster NATO’s eastern flank against possible Russian aggression.

The MRZR ATV is a very Spartan design. There’s no armor protection. It’s designed to carry extra ammunition, food, water and casualties if necessary.

We are not comparing this to a JLTV or an up-armored Humvee or anything like that. It’s designed to stay off road; it’s designed to enable you to be unpredictable. It’s a mule. It’s designed to be there at the most tactical level.

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Photo showing a special forces ATV being loaded onto a Chinook helicopter (Photo: DoD)

Special Operations units have used various ATVs in Afghanistan, many manufactured by Polaris.

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