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

Eric Sof

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 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 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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