Armor: The Kind of Protected Vehicle Anyone Can Buy


September 3, 2013: Since September 11, 2001, there has been a sharp increase in the use of bullet proof automobiles. The wealthy are buying most of them but government has become a major customer as well, accounting for about a third of sales. The biggest markets are those suffering from a lot of kidnapping and seemingly random violence. Mexico, Colombia, and many Middle Eastern countries are the main markets for these expensive vehicles.

The most common automobiles to be armored are SUVs and sedans, and there are now many car dealerships specializing in these vehicles. Once the major U.S armored car shops were working at near capacity there was an opportunity for automotive specialty shops in other nations to get into the business. As early as 2005, the U.S. even contracted some automobile armoring for a Mexican firm that specialized in this this work.

Because of the cartel wars in Mexico, over 2,500 armored sedans, SUVs, and light trucks are now produced each year in Mexico alone. The violence down there has been horrendous. The government believes about a thousand people a month are dying from drug cartel related violence. This puts Mexico ahead of the recently increased terrorist violence in Iraq and where Syria was earlier this year. Some 70,000 have died in the Mexican cartel war since 2007, compared to over 100,000 in two years of Syrian violence and 120,000 Iraqi dead in a decade of religious violence. Since the 1970s, there have been similar internal conflicts in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey. Mexico is a bit of Middle East style civil violence in North America. This is not the first time the Americas have suffered this. Leftist and drug gang violence in Colombia have left over 220,000 dead in the last 60 years. That’s for a country with only about 40 percent as many people as Mexico. This war in Colombia is finally winding down, but it shows you how long and bloody such conflicts can be. Some 20,800 people have disappeared in Mexico since 2006, including 1,200 children under the age of 11. Another estimate holds that 24,000 people have been missing since 2000, and that around 16,000 bodies have been discovered but not identified.

The armored vehicles must, at a minimum, be protected against pistol bullets. But most now are resistant to sniper and assault rifles. Some manufacturers will also build vehicles that provide some protection from roadside bombs. Turning a civilian sedan or SUV into an armored vehicle is a labor-intensive job. First, you have to strip the vehicle down to the bare frame. Then you install Kevlar and steel plate armor and bullet-proof glass. The standard tires are replaced with run-flat models. The additional weight (up to a ton or more) requires the installation of enhanced shocks and a more powerful engine. It takes a few hundred pounds of armor to provide protection from pistol bullets. Protection from rifle bullets requires half a ton. For protection against heavy machine-gun (12.7mm) and bombs you need a ton or more. The first armor kits for military vehicles, like the hummer, weighed a ton. Soon that was up to two tons. The additional load on high-end vehicles is 1.5 tons, which is enough armor to stop heavy machine-gun bullets.

Once you have put the newly armored vehicle back together, you have to make more modifications to insure that the vehicle has the same handling characteristics as before the extra weight was added. This is crucial so that your driver does not have to learn new driving techniques to handle the rapid maneuvers needed to escape an ambush. You also want the armored car to move like an unarmored one, so it's not obvious that the vehicle is armored.

Jaguar, the luxury car manufacturer, has developed an armored version of its XJ series sedan (the XJ Sentinel). The unarmored XJ weighs 1.8 tons, while the armored version weighs 3.3 tons (plus up to half a ton of passengers and whatnot). The four door Jaguar XJ Sentinel is bullet proof, can handle a bomb with up to 15 kg (33 pounds), as well as grenades thrown underneath the vehicle. The armored version has a more powerful engine, brakes, and suspension to handle the additional weight. The XJ Sentinel can accelerate to 100 kilometers an hour in 9.7 seconds and has a top speed of 194 kilometers an hour. The unarmored XJ model Jaguar goes for about $75,000 while the armored model costs nearly $900,000. Armoring typically doubles (or triples) the cost of a car in this price range but the armored Jaguar is built to exacting specifications because it is often used by very senior government officials. The price of an armored sedan or SUV depends on how elaborate the security features are. For example the Sentinel has run flat tires and many additional electronic options. Jaguar is now owned by Tata Motors, the largest automobile manufacturer in India.





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