Low-Profile, Lightweight Armored SUV for Security Operations by David Crane
by David Crane
by David Crane
All photos contained in this article were taken by, and are the exlusive property of, DefenseReview.com. Click on photos below to view them full-size.
Low-profile armored vehicles have become an extremely important tactical element in security operations OCONUS, in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. To help fulfill this need, First Choice Armor and Equipment, Inc. (FCA) is now offering their own line of armored vehicles. DefenseReview got to view and photograph one of them at IACP 2005 Miami. The specific vehicle we got to peruse is an armored SUV (2005 Toyota Land Cruiser V8) featuring FCA’s B6 Level III package. According to Matt Baker, Director of Government Services for FCA, the custom Toyota Land Cruiser offers 360-degree no-gap/full-scene armor coverage (including doors and glass) against rifle threats up to 7.62x39mm, 5.56x45mm (Green Tip), and 7.62x51mm. The B6 Level III package provides this level of protection at 30% less weight than an all-steel vehicle armor solution, giving the vehicle superior operational longevity.
Armored vehicles are notorious for being short-lived, due to the significantly greater wear and tear on the vehicle that heavy armor usually creates. "That’s our unique advantage. We don’t have to…
overhaul the engine and all the drivetrain and powering components to assist the armor that much. That adds a value to the performance of the ballistic armor. The only [vehicle] we would need to overhaul is a van or armored personnel-type carrying van that has a lot of people in it", Baker said.
For the B6 Level III vehicular armor package, 3/16th Mil-Std ballistic steel is used on the rooftops. 1/8th-inch Mil-Std steel is combined with an aramid ply such as twaron or kevlar for the floor of the vehicle. The aramid fibers are put behind the steel to provide added protection, creating a suppression layer and spall collection barrier on the floor. FCA uses a proprietary mixture for its armored glass. "Armored glass is actually thicker, denser, and heavier than ceramics at the same threat protection [level]. We try to take as much of those glass vantage points out of the way by encapsulating the vehicle more on the inside. And, I think the one that we had there [Miami IACP], we kept the existing outer glass in place and we built a protection barrier with a vision port in the back. There’s also the capability for rotating glass and gun ports", Baker said.
Although, he noted that exposed gun ports can make you an automatic target. That’s when I suggested the idea of discreet gun ports that are invisible from the outside of the vehicle. These ports would sit behind a thin metallic skin (blended with the rest of the outer metal surface) that the PSD/Security Operator could shoot through very easily from inside the vehicle.
So, who’s First Choice Armor’s target market? Primarily corporate executives and civilian personnel employed by large contractors like Halliburton, General Dynamics (GD), and L-3 Communications, including, as Baker puts it, "the guy with his hands on the wires laying new telephone cable". "That [private contractor] industry is where we’ve had our greatest achievements [so far]", Baker said. But that might be about to change. First Choice is now reaching into the DoD (Department of Defense) community, since there’s a natural interaction between the private sector contracting community and DoD community in Iraq. In fact, DoD elements have asked First Choice to make some mission-specific mods (modifications) to some of their existing vehicles for DoD personnel. So, FCA is now targeting the DoD and Federal Government (military and law enforcement) markets. "We find a lot of overlap between [private] contractors and DoD teams", says Baker.
With their Armored Vehicles Division, First Choice Armor (FCA) is entering an extremely competitive field that’s currently controlled by armoring companies like Centigon (headquartered in Fairfield Ohio and part of the Mobile Security Division of Armor Holdings), Square One Armoring Services (Miami, Florida), Scaletta Moloney Armoring (Bedford Park, Ilinois and Farmington Hills, Michigan), International Armoring Corporation (IAC) (Ogden, Utah), and Labock Technologies (Weston, FL), so they certainly have their work cut out for them. It’s to Mr. Baker’s (and FCA’s) credit that he didn’t try to go negative in any way against the other armored vehicle companies during our interview. For instance, when Square One came up in the conversation, Mr. Baker had the following to say, "Square One has a way [of putting] the armor together that the State Department and a lot of customers at the federal level really like. This is in the way they encapsulate the vehicle. Both [First Choice and Square One] provide 360-degree ‘no gap’ coverage on the vehicle [full-scene]." According to Baker, Square One is "very craftsmanship oriented, very workmanlike, a good product with something good put into it." He told us that the name "Square One" hints at the company’s armoring/manufacturing method, as they utilize individual overlapping squares to totally encapsulate the vehicle. Mr. Baker made the point that First Choice Armor and Square One basically achieve the same result–protection level, degree/area of coverage of anti-ballistic protection, quality of product, etc.–through different design and manufacturing means.
Understand that FCA’s armored vehicles are full-custom vehicles, made to order. They can install fire suppression systems, two-way intercomm radios (for getting through checkpoints more safely/securely), and various other systems, per customer requirement. It basically all comes down to how much you’re willing and/or able to spend. The B6 Level III vehicle discussed and pictured here is $129,000 out the door, or $60-75,000 (depending) if you want to up-armor a Toyota Land Cruiser you already own. You can also opt for a B7 Level IV package, which will, of course, be more expensive–although it will protect against rifle threats up to and including .30-06 AP (Armor Piercing) ammo. Run-Flat tires come standard on all First Choice Armor armored vehicles.
FCA’s delivery curve is 4-6 weeks for a full custom vehicle. "We provide vehicles on a basis of mission requirement and urgency" Baker said, and he’s relying on First Choice Armor’s weight advantage (30-40% lighter than all-steel solutions) and delivery advantage (4-6 weeks vs. 8 weeks for most other companies) to help put them over the top and gain market share on the more established vehicle armoring companies.
Defense Review came away very impressed with the FCA armored SUV we photographed. It seemed like an ideal combination of luxuriousness and bullet resistance. The overall workmanship, fit and finish, etc. appeared to be truly outstanding–first rate, even. So if you’re currently looking for an up-armored/bullet-resistant luxury 4×4, you might want to give FCA a call. They can most likely provide you with a custom-tailored solution to fulfill your mission-specific requirement(s).
You can contact First Choice Armor’s Vehicle Armor Division (a.k.a. Armored Vehicles Division) by phone at 508-559-0777, or toll-free at 800-882-7667. Their fax number is 508-941-6841. If you’d prefer to contact them via their contact form, click here.
Author’s Note: O’Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt is one of the largest vehicle armoring companies in the world, and now operates under the Centigon banner. The other companies acquired and now also operating under Centigon are Labbé SA (Lamballe, France), Protec SA (Bogata, Colombia), and TRASCO (Bremen, Germany).