SOF mobility?


back to the basics
Verified SOF
Nov 15, 2007
SOF mobility from

SOTECH’s annual special operations tactical vehicle review A great deal of activity occurred in the world of tactical vehicles over the past year or so, as U.S. military forces invested heavily in new vehicle designs and configurations. USSOCOM has been using new and old vehicles while also taking a look at other options in use by SOF around the world.
By Michael Burnett

A great deal of activity occurred in the world of tactical vehicles over the past year or so, as U.S. military forces invested heavily in new vehicle designs and configurations. Special Operations Technology examines how U.S. Special Operations Command has been using new and old vehicles while also taking a look at other options in use by special forces around the world.

AM General

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have depended heavily on the iconic High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, manufactured by AM General of South Bend, Ind. AM General has continued to improve HMMWVs, or Humvees, since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, boosting the amount they can carry as well as increasing protection for troops inside. Additional improvements to HMMWVs are underway with initiatives such as anti-ballistic windshield armor being developed by Defense CS of Mishawak, Ind., and new vehicle armor designs by the University of Notre Dame.

Meanwhile, the Army’s National Training Center (NTC) received its first up-armored Humvees for use in combat training. The M-1151A1 Humvees come with a fragmentation kit as well as an objective gunners’ protection kit. The Army has deployed 90 of the vehicles to NTC to ensure realistic training on the actual vehicles being used to support the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. Special Forces continue to modify Humvees to create their own Ground Mobility Vehicle variants. Such modifications sometimes pave the way for improvements in Humvees and related equipment used by the Army at large.

Still, the DoD has determined it can no longer fulfill all of the missions assigned to it and has embarked on several replacement vehicles.

AM General teamed up with General Dynamics in January 2007 to create another tactical vehicle to fulfill the requirements of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program. The two companies created a venture called General Tactical Vehicles to develop a vehicle that uses modular armor to protect crewmembers as required.

USSOCOM also is assisting in development of the JLTV vehicle, which would provide a more mobile and survivable scouting vehicle for its forces.

Joint Light Tactical Vehicle

The JLTVs are largely intended for use in replacing Humvees, which cannot support the goals under the joint functional concepts of increasing situational awareness and boosting weapons and logistics support.

According to the Marine Corps Program Executive Office (PEO) Land Systems, the Humvee “is inadequate for the current operational environment; it has serious survivability, mobility, reliability and operational flexibility limitations.”

JLTV vehicles would come with companion trailers that enhance the multi-mission functionality of the vehicles. They must provide a great deal of crew protection while remaining sustainable and networked to other vehicles. The JLTV would come in five variants, each optimized for different missions: combat tactical, command and control, light infantry squad carrier, reconnaissance and utility variant.

Both conventional services and USSOCOM need these improvements to carry out their mandates, the program office says.

Mentioned previously is the AM General and General Dynamics Land General Tactical Vehicles team.

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems Combat Systems division has partnered with Textron Marine & Land Systems to combine Boeing’s program management capabilities with Textron’s experience in wheeled vehicles. Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) joined the team recently to draw upon that company’s landforce systems offerings. The team’s vehicle offers a hybrid electric drive and an “innovative suspension.”

DRS Sustainment Systems Inc., a unit of DRS Technologies, has teamed with Force Protection to compete for the contract. DRS Sustainment systems has integrated systems for U.S. ground systems while Force Protection has designed vehicles such as the Cougar, Buffalo and Cheetah.

Lockheed Martin, as the prime contractor and systems integrator, formed a partnership with Armor Holdings Inc. (now part of BAE Systems), under which Lockheed would facilitate the JLTV design, net-centric capabilities and logistics. Armor Holdings was to assemble the vehicle in addition to design the armor systems for it.

BAE Systems Ground Systems also has joined forces with Navistar International Corp. to unveil a JLTV design. BAE Systems focuses on vehicle design aspects of the program while Navistar handles logistics and production capabilities.

Northrop Grumman Corp. and Oshkosh Corp. also have formed a partnership to compete for the JLTV program, leveraging Oshkosh Truck’s design, engineering and manufacturing skills and knowledge.

Raytheon and Blackwater USA have teamed up to offer the JLTV Grizzly MK VII, which combines Blackwater’s penchant for fast, off-road vehicles with Raytheon’s systems integration expertise.

The Army and Marines intend to award three JLTV development contracts for a technical development phase of 27 months around the end of June. The overall JLTV contract would last 10 years with an estimated value of $30 billion.


Many of the vendors competing to win the JLTV contract recently have been through a similar competition with the mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle program. BAE Systems, Navistar, and Force Protection have been particularly successful in selling MRAP vehicles to U.S. military forces.

But USSOCOM largely has acquired its MRAP vehicles from BAE Systems, which has been selling its RG-31 Pathfinder and RG-33 4x4 and 6x6 vehicles to the MRAP program.

BAE Systems’ RG-31 Pathfinder is a commercially developed vehicle, which USSOCOM has purchased as a MRAP Category I vehicle. In addition, the command has purchased BAE Systems RG-33 4x4 vehicles as Category I vehicles and the RG-33 6x6 as Category II. BAE Systems even produces a USSOCOM variant of the RG-33 4x4.

The USSOCOM variant sports a remote weapons station; swing arm mounts; seating for eight crewmembers (instead of six); a rear door assist; integrated equipment especially for special forces; and integration of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment. USSOCOM has ordered at least 259 of these variants to date.

All RG-33 vehicles carry protection against improvised explosive devices, anti-personnel mines, small arms, and heavy machine gun fire. As with other MRAP vehicles, RG-33 has a V-shaped hull design to deflect explosions away from its crew. Warfighters can configure the armor on the RG-33, upgrading it to face deadlier threats if necessary. In recent months, BAE Systems has introduced lightweight expanded armor to provide increased protection to RG-33 crewmembers.


USSOCOM and regular military services have deployed other vehicles for specific missions as well. The U.S. has sometimes turned to All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Corp., a division of Phoenix International Systems Inc. based in Orange, Calif., which also introduced its Prowler rugged terrain vehicle to law enforcement personnel for use in homeland security operations last October. The light, durable vehicle offers a rapidly deployable mode of transportation for circumnavigating rough terrain, much like a tough two-man open car. The Prowler comes with a third rear-facing seat option that enables a soldier to ride in a “check six” attitude.

“Specific requirements for the unique capabilities of our rugged terrain vehicle and an increasing demand by certain elements of the homeland security community have convinced us to make our purpose-built military platform available. This offering will provide a vehicle with unmatched versatility and reliability to meet the needs of U.S. law enforcement, emergency responders and security operations,” Phoenix International CEO Amos Deacon said.

ATV Corp. also offers the Prowler II, a 4-wheel drive light tactical version of the original with enhanced off-road capabilities, designed to fit inside CH-46/47 and MH-53 helicopters or the CV-22 Osprey. Soldiers can mount a machine gun on top of the roof for 360 degree targeting of enemy forces. Both versions of the Prowler come equipped with quick release safety belts and a steel roll cage for crew protection.

The Prowler basically drives like a car and its front and rear independent double-wishbone suspension helps it climb and overcome rough ground. Its run-flat tires and reinforced wheels, as well as its low center of gravity, make the vehicle difficult to stop or disable. The Prowler can travel up to 63 mph and it can carry a payload of 1,000 pounds. It can tow weights of up to 2,250 to 2,350 pounds, and its winch can draw up to 3,000 pounds.

Prowlers are suited for combat, reconnaissance, and search and rescue missions and have been adapted to drive in unmanned configurations, participating in DARPA’s Grand Challenge.

Advanced Vehicle Systems

Advanced Vehicle Systems (AVS), based in Jacksonville, N.C., has developed the U.S. Marine Corps’ interim fast attack vehicle (IFAV) using its G-Class military vehicle. The G-Class includes a lightweight pedestal to allow mounts of .50 cal and MK19 guns.

The G-Class takes its name from its Mercedes-Benz G-Class base vehicle as used by the Geländewagen (or G-Wagen), a 4x4 manufactured by Daimler AG. AVS integrated the base with upgraded components to create a tougher, more powerful vehicle. The G-Class can travel up to 96 mph and up incline grades of 80 percent. The vehicle protects its passengers with shrapnel-proof armor.

Warfighters can reconfigure the G-Class into a fast attack or command vehicle as well as a communications vehicle or an ambulance. The IFAV is internally transportable by CH-46 Sea Knight, CH-53 Sea Stallion, and V-22 Osprey and can carry an array of different weapons.

The Marines are not alone in their deployment of the G-Class as NATO has put more than 50,000 of them into service. The G-Wagen itself was borne from a concept for a military vehicle and deployed by military forces in the 1970s. Many European militaries, notably the Austrian Army, as well as Canada and Australia have purchased G-Wagens for use as military vehicles.

The Marines and USSOCOM are working on the internally transportable vehicle (ITV), which would replace the IFAV. The Marines may field the first ITVs as early as this summer.


While BAE Systems has been producing a great number of vehicles for U.S. military forces, it certainly has not been neglecting foreign military services in the meantime.

For example, BAE Systems acquired Armor Holdings in August 2007, thereby also acquiring the popular Pinzgauer vehicle. In January, BAE Systems announced it would discontinue the production of Pinzgauer I, the popular 4x4 high-mobility transport vehicle, ceasing production in Guildford and Fareham, England, and perhaps starting up production of the Pinzgauer II 6x6 vehicle at BAE Systems South Africa. At least some production personnel would remain in Guildford to support Pinzgauer customers.

BAE Systems Land Systems unveiled the Pinzgauer II in London in September 2007. The new Pinzgauer uses a 6-cylinder 145kW engine and possesses enhanced suspension and flexible armor for increased performance and protection. The Pinzgauer II comes in two variants: regular Pinzgauer II with a cab-forward design and Pinzgauer Mantis with a front hood. The hood provides additional mine blast protection.

“The base vehicle of either variant can be adaptable to special purposes, whether as a protected troop carrier, or high-volume application. The base platform may also be fitted with a shelter body or other specialist equipment,” according to BAE Systems.

Pinzgauer II is very similar to Pinzgauer I in many respects, but the company is making it larger and more ergonomic. It has increased the height and the width of the vehicle to provide more space but also to provide greater innovations to boost the situational awareness of the driver.

“From the outset, the Pinzgauer II range has been designed with protection in mind. All variants can be supplied with a basic fitted-for architecture, which can then be customized with enhancements designed to defeat a range of threats. These include cover blast, ballistic and fragment specifications,” said Graeme Rumbol, chief of BAE Systems Land Systems’ Pinzgauer operations.


Supacat Ltd. of Devon, England, is producing a new 4x4 Supacat HMT 400 vehicle to augment its 6x6 HMT 600 vehicle. The United Kingdom has ordered 130 of the 4x4 vehicles for fielding this year to replace Land Rovers, which have proven challenging to use in rough terrain.

The 4-ton HMT 400 can carry four soldiers and a lot of weapons. The Supacat mobility weapons mounted installation kit (MWMIK) provides British forces with rollbars and mounts for armaments, which include 12.7 mm and 7.62 mm machine-guns and a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher. The Supacat also could carry GPMG and Javelin anti-tank missiles. It comes equipped with dispensers on the front and back that can create a smokescreen.

The HMT 400 has improved armor and off-road capabilities, although its open design does not provide much protection from side or top attacks. Troops can easily transport the HMT 400 in CH-47 Chinook and C-130 Hercules.

The Supacat HMT 400 has many parts and a chassis in common with the HMT 600 vehicle, which remains a highly maneuverable yet durable means of moving troops and equipment. The Supacat offers six-wheel drive where soldiers can steer the front four wheels conventionally with a rotating handlebar.

The Supacat is powered by a diesel-fueled Volkswagen 1,900 cc turbocharged engine and two batteries of either 12 or 24 volts. It can travel at speeds of up to 40 mph, but it also has a hollow section chassis frame made of steel and clad in aluminum. With this open hull, the vehicle is able to float when deployed with a special kit. An outboard motor would propel the Supacat through water effectively.

The belly of the vehicle is made of hardened aluminum to provide some protection from anti-personnel mines. An optional protective front plate made of steel is also available for additional hardening.


Jankel Armouring Ltd., of Surrey, England, and King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB) of Jordan teamed up to introduce the Al-Thalab long range patrol vehicle (LRPV) at the SOFEX Exhibition in 2004. The two companies formed Jordan Light Vehicle Manufacturing LLC to manufacture the vehicle, which is based on a commercial, ruggedized, Toyota Landcruiser 79 series chassis. The use of standard Toyota parts permits quick repair of the vehicle just about anywhere in the world, according to Jankel Armouring.

The Al-Thalab can generally go for long periods with little to no support. It is configuration enables quick and easy field repairs as necessary, its manufacturer says. The Al-Thalab LRPV carries four crewmembers as well as a payload of 3,750 pounds, which could include weapons, ammunition, fuel, supplies and water enough for a 10-day patrol. The Jordanian Armed Forces placed orders for the Al-Thalab vehicle in 2004 and started using it in 2006. The African nation of Mauritania also was an early buyer of the vehicle.

These nations appreciate the Al-Thalab’s ability to travel through the desert up to 930 miles before it needs refueling. The Al-Thalab, or Fox, is often used for reconnaissance and border security operations in arid climates. However, it is adaptable as a highly mobile weapons platform for offensive action and for delivering assault troops into the upper levels of buildings in urban operations with a combat ladder kit.

Jankel tweaked the design of the Al-Thalab after initial orders to make it more modular and easy to reconfigure for different missions. Warfighters can add storage, seating, weapons systems and engine configurations to suit their needs.

Last year, Jankel announced it would expand on the 4x4 Al-Thalab line of vehicles to introduce a light patrol vehicle specifically for urban and security operations. Jankel received feedback from customers that they would like to see a short-range patrol vehicle ideal for 48-hour missions and for carrying six people instead of four.


French corporation Panhard General Defense recently has created the small protected vehicle (PVP) and initially fielded about 30 of them to the French Army. The new armored car also has been well received by the 1st Marines Paratrooper Regiment of the French Special Forces, Charles Maisonneuve, Panhard head of marketing and communications, told SOTECH.

The PVP is a 5-ton armored vehicle that was designed particularly to protect troops on the go from one location to another, taking into consideration the need for comfort on long trips and crew protection against a variety of enemy threats. The PVP comes with interior rails that permit soldiers to change its configuration or install additional equipment. It can carry a payload of 1-ton and carry four fully equipped crewmembers.

The PVP is highly maneuverable and it can navigate tight spaces such as narrow streets in small villages. The vehicle’s ballistic protection is rated at NATO STANAG Level 2, providing cover from 7.62 mm ammunition. Panhard took particular care to harden the PVP against the threat of improvised explosive devices. The company intends to produce 150 of them a year, starting in 2008, for delivery to the French Army.

French Special Forces now also possess a total of 51 VPS vehicles from Panhard, Maisonneuve added. The Panhard VPS offers a rapid vehicle, with a top speed of 75 miles per hour, for reconnaissance missions conducted by special operators. It is based on a G-Class Mercedes chassis and weighs about 6,170 pounds.

The VPS can carry four fully equipped crewmembers and a payload of 2,645 pounds. The floor of the VPS is hardened against anti-personnel mines, providing additional protection to warfighters. The vehicle is particularly popular with the 13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment, an airborne component of French Army Special Forces, due to its transportability. The VPS all-terrain vehicles are designed to fit into CH-53 and NH-90 helicopters.


Gibbs Technologies of Warwickshire, England, has teamed up with Lockheed Martin to produce high-speed amphibious vehicles for military use. Gibbs Technologies originally developed the prototype line of these vehicles, which include the Aquada, a three-seat sports car; the Humdinga, a 4x4 vehicle; and the Quadski, an all terrain vehicle.

These high speed amphibians (HSAs) travel more than 100 mph on land and 45 mph on water. They transform to land- or water-mode in about five seconds.

Gibbs and Lockheed Martin are working on three new concept vehicles, which include the Amphibious Combat Craft Expeditionary, a 20-foot craft that travels 45 mph on water and 80 mph on land; the Amphibious Combat Craft Riverine, a 35-foot craft that travels 40 mph on water and 65 mph on land; and the Terraquad, which would travel 55 mph on water and 50 mph on land.

“HSAs are high performance craft on the water, and high performance vehicles on the ground and the transition between the two is seamless. These are true amphibians, combining the best of both worlds,” Alan Gibbs, chairman of Gibbs Technologies, said in a statement announcing the cooperation in 2007.

The companies are examining the integration of command and control capabilities as well as armor and weapons systems into the vehicles. The amphibians also will carry networked sensors to enable rapid communications and expanded situational awareness from within the vehicles. The vehicles are designed to significantly lower insertion and extraction time for Navy special forces as they move in and out of water to carry out their missions.

“Until now, our Navy and special forces have taken on great risk with sea-to-shore insertions, largely due to a transition period that can last an hour or more in vulnerable areas,” Rich Lockwood, Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensor’s vice president for Mission Systems, said in the statement. “HSA minimizes that risk, allowing forces to move safer and faster—and with capabilities that make it a powerful asset in a net-enabled force.”

General Dynamics

General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GDOTS), St.Petersburg,Fla., has developed a light strike vehicle specifically designed to meet the requirements of the internally transportable vehicle. The M1161 Light Strike Vehicle is a fully NAVAIR certified mobility platform for the MV-22.

The compact design is powered by a four cylinder 2.8 liter Navistar Defense turbo diesel engine coupled with a four speed automatic transmission. Road speed is reported to be 65+ mph. An endurance feature is the run flat rims, inserts and tires. GD-OTS claims 50 mph for 50 miles to ensure continued mission capability after damage. An onboard central tire inflation system (CTIS) allows the adjustment of tire pressures on the fly. A foldable/stowable roll-over protection system (ROPS) combined with an air-adjustable (on the fly) ride height suspension system ensure not only crew safety but the height requirement to fit into the V-22 internal envelope. The LSV meets the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and has been certified to MIL-STD-209 J/K requirements.

The vehicle onboard compressor supplies air for the CTIS and the air-adjustable suspension system. The M1161 also provides a rear overhead ring mount for arming the LSV with the standard array of heavy weapons up to the M2 .50 caliber and Mk 19 grenade launcher. In addition to the strike variant, GD-OTS has mentioned a utility variant that eliminates the aft gunner ring for a pickup truck-style bed but still retaining the four crewmember positions, and a medical transport. Other concepts under review include ground UAV station and meteorological station vehicles.

“The vehicle’s internal air transportability certification for V-22 and the speed, agility, and mobility for mission needs,” said Laurie VanBrocklin senior director, marketing communications and services GDOTS, when asked about the LSV’s key SOF attributes. The LSV is in low rate initial production anticipating a full rate production decision from the Marines by mid-July.