Armored specialized vehicles have been in law enforcement use since the 1970s, but for the first 30 years or so, they were mostly repurposed from some other line of work. Police departments used bank armored cars or converted military vehicles to transport tactical teams and provide some protection from rounds in flight.
More recently, vendors have been producing purpose-built vehicles for police use. Because of their size, these usually get a lot of attention at police trade shows.
Not being much of a car buff, it never occurred to me that making these vehicles presented some significant engineering challenges. I recently spoke with Bob Padzerka, CEO of The Armored Group (TAG), and learned something about how these vehicles are put together and tested.
Kevlar Fist in a Velvet Glove
TAG started out in 1992, producing cash-in-transit vehicles we commonly refer to as “armored cars.”
In 1998, the company expanded to include production of tactical vehicles and armoring SUVs for VIPs and dignitaries. Most of their work is done at their 144,000-square-foot Detroit facility, but they also have manufacturing outlets in Canada and the United Arab Emirates.
Most of their tactical vehicles start life as Chevrolet Suburban SUVs or Ford F-550 cab and chassis assemblies. The vehicles are stripped to bare metal, and custom ballistic material — mostly Kevlar and Spectra fabric — is added to make the vehicle impervious to gunfire up to and including standard military 7.62 x 51mm and 5.56 x 45mm rounds. This is the ammunition commonly fired by AK-47 and most M-16 variant/NATO rifles, respectively.
All window glass is replaced by bullet-resistant glass-clad polycarbonate. This material is a combination of laminated glass, chemically hardened glass, and polymer, and is considerably lighter and thinner than conventional bulletproof glass.
The company prides itself on making the ballistic features as unobtrusive as possible. To the casual observer, one of their up-armored luxury vehicles or SUVs looks like one off the dealer’s lot. The ballistic material is custom-fitted behind panels and dashboards, and the interior of the vehicle the occupants see looks just like it did before the modifications were made.
Adding the Kevlar/Spectra material and the specialized glass adds substantially to the weight of the vehicle, so much so that the factory suspension will no longer handle the load. TAG replaces the suspension components with a specialized system developed in cooperation with Pi Innovo, an automotive engineering firm.
The enhanced suspension is called ARCS, for Active Ride Control System. Dampening of road vibrations is continuously adjusted via a feedback loop and an electronic control module custom-built for this application. Typically, the system provides low dampening at low speeds and ramps up the dampening for higher speeds. The result is better stability, control, and tire adhesion to the road.
Certified for Survivability
One of the factors that distinguish TAG’s products from others on the market is its testing and certification process. Not all manufacturers bother with this.
“When the wars broke out, anyone with a welder and a garage became an armored vehicle builder,” Padzerka said.
The ballistic and explosive-resistant properties of TAG’s vehicles are certified by Beschussamt Ulm in Germany, which runs extensive practical tests on each model. The cars are shot with specialized, calibrated rifles from every likely angle to ensure the survivability of anyone inside.
The process costs approximately $250,000 for each model of vehicle.
Although TAG’s vehicles are highly modified, most maintenance can be performed local to the owners’ sites by regular automotive technicians. Maintenance procedures don’t differ much from factory standards, although more frequent maintenance intervals may be required.
The typical tactical vehicle from TAG has a price tag of $100K to $450K, depending on options. The company has customers in every state and in many foreign countries.