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How To Spec Tactical Vehicles

Building the right mobile command vehicle can be the ultimate challenge for law enforcement agencies. In addition to dealing with budgetary restraints, project leaders must make crucial decisions about chassis type, available options and post-purchase repair. This requires extensive planning and research; they must identify the vehicle’s ultimate purpose and understand how the components work together to ensure that the end result is a vehicle that can effectively serve the community for many years to come.

When choosing the company that will build your command vehicle, it is wise to consider one with some longevity and a proven track record. For example, Lenco Industries has been designing and manufacturing armored security vehicles since 1981 for law enforcement agencies and private security forces. Lenco has provided armored vehicles to all four branches of the U.S. military, as well as the U.S. Departments of Defense, State, Energy, the FBI and Homeland Security.

This Massachusetts-based company has produced more than 4,000 armored vehicles for use in more than 30 countries worldwide. Citing a typical price range of between $200,000 to $300,000 for an armored SWAT vehicle, Lenco president Len Light stresses the importance of making an educated choice. For agencies considering this type of investment, Light has some sound advice.

Assess the Armor Protection

SWAT teams are exposed to high-risk situations that may involve the use of gunfire and/or explosives, so the greater the armor protection level, the better. Each situation is unique, making it impossible to predict the type of weapons and ammunition that any given team faces. Therefore, Light recommends the highest level of protection to avoid a breach in the armor.

Although he recognizes that many agencies operate within a restricted budget, this is not the area in which to cut corners. He points out that in most cases, Lenco does “not support the proposition that some armor is better than no armor,” and suggests identifying sources of funding to obtain the highest protection available.

Of equal importance are the type and thickness of the armor materials used in building a SWAT vehicle. Because the vehicle must be capable of withstanding multi-hit attacks from heavy fire power, all Lenco products are built with certified Mil-Spec steel armor. Agencies should also be aware that the commercial-grade high hard steel used by some suppliers (commonly known as AR-500) is not produced as armor plate. The “AR” is misleading in that it does not indicate armor, but actually stands for “Abrasion Resistant.” While it may provide resistance to ballistic attacks, in no way does it afford the protection of armor plate.

The Mil-Spec also applies to the thickness of the material. Lenco adheres to this standard by using a single plate of monolithic steel armor. Some suppliers use a thin layer of steel on the exterior of the vehicle reinforced with a corresponding thickness in the interior lining.

While this may withstand multi-hit testing, Light points out that “in real world ballistic attacks with an automatic weapon, it is very possible and even probable that a round will hit the same spot more than once. To defeat ballistic attacks, steel armor needs to be on the exterior. Any interior armor should be a material that supplements the exterior armor system to act as a spall liner.”

Windows of an armored vehicle are often the primary target. They should be made of a thick, multi-layered, glass-clad polycarbonate. Lenco went beyond the one-shot criteria of NIJ Level IV testing and developed a proprietary lay-up of glass and polycarbonate to defeat multi-hit attacks.

Selecting a Vendor

After an agency has determined the size and type of vehicle to purchase it should seek referrals from other agencies that have gone through the process. Were they satisfied with the level of assistance, service and expertise? Did the end product perform as expected? Have complaints and warranty issues been dealt with satisfactorily? Would they purchase the same product from the same supplier in the future?

When responding to an emergency situation, SWAT and rescue teams need to know that the vehicle will be both reliable and durable. If the vehicle fails to operate to its optimum ability, the safety of both team members and the public are placed in jeopardy.

In selecting a supplier, thoroughly research the company. Assess its technical capabilities and reputation. Find out if the company responds quickly and effectively to problems. Because some parts, such as gun ports and door locks, are specific to the vehicle manufacturer and must come from them, agencies need assurance that repair work and replacement parts will be provided down the road.

The armored SWAT vehicle industry is largely unregulated, and suppliers are not required to submit their products to NHTSA or NIJ for testing. Be aware that some suppliers will respond with a “will comply” to almost any technical spec on a bid, regardless of their ability to do so. This places the burden of proving they did not comply on the buyer. Armored vehicles are specialized vehicles with proprietary features that require certified materials, sophisticated engineering, advanced manufacturing procedures, a well-equipped facility and an experienced production staff with proficiency in many aspects of vehicle manufacturing. Therefore, it is important to go with a supplier that has the expertise and experience necessary to provide a quality vehicle that will stand the test of time.

BEAR and BearCat

Developed in response to the increased threat to our national security, the Lenco BEAR (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response) is used by SWAT teams throughout the U.S. The BEAR holds 15 officers for rapid deployment and can evacuate up to 30 people. Due to its high level of armor and enhanced mobility, it is ideally suited for tactical emergency medical services, emergency rescue and hostage rescue.

The BEAR is built on a commercially serviceable chassis, the Freightliner FL 60, which allows for quick repairs and parts replacement at any number of dealers or truck service stations throughout the world. The turbocharged diesel engine is designed to reduce maintenance service, expenses and downtime. The chassis has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 25,500 pounds, plus an additional 6,000 pounds of payload for personnel, gear and supplies.

All windows and vertical panels on the BEAR are designed to withstand multiple hit attacks from 7.62mm Armor Piercing rounds, offering optimal protection in all situations. Other features of the BEAR include front and rear A/C and heating, power steering and power hydraulic ABS disc brakes. Additional standard and optional equipment is available, such as runflat tires, 3,600-watt power inverter, and radiation and explosive gas detection systems. The base pricing is $260K for the 2WD version and $300K for the 4x4 version.

The Lenco BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) is a more compact and mobile version of the BEAR. The BearCat was developed as a heavy-duty alternative to military surplus vehicles. Offered on the Ford F550 4x4 chassis with a standard Triton V10 gasoline engine, the BearCat’s panels and standard cupola armor are constructed of 1/2-inch thick, high-hard certified ballistic steel.

The vehicle is delivered to the customer as a complete turnkey unit, providing near-seamless, one-piece sidewall construction as well as floor and rooftop armor materials with a V50 fragmentation rating. Other features include a standard seating capacity of 10, a GVWR of 17,500 pounds, a rotating armored roof hatch, 5-inch diameter gun ports with wrap-around running boards and a strobe lighting/siren/PA package. Optional equipment includes a ballistic skip round shield, a Ludlum Radiation Detection Package, a rear area HVAC and runflat tires. The base price is $188K, while a well-equipped vehicle would cost $225K.

Lenco Products in Action

In June 2001, two state troopers were shot while attempting to arrest a suspect on a weapons violation. A gun battle with the police ensued, and the suspect then barricaded himself in a grocery store. After 14 hours, the Illinois State Police Tactical Response team was called upon for assistance.

Arriving on the scene with the BEAR, the response team first replaced all the plain-clothes officers positioned around the building with tactical officers. Due to the ballistic protection offered by the vehicle, this was accomplished in one-tenth the amount of time it would have taken using hand-held shield teams. Officers in the roof hatch were armed with rifles to provide high cover, and another officer was positioned at the side gun port.

The BEAR also allowed them to transport a tactical team right up to the front door to set up a phone and camera system. Then they drove the BEAR slowly around the building to assess the situation and determine their entry plan. Sergeant Ed Mohn noted the advantage of being able to see directly into the building rather than relying on floor plans and drawings. Negotiations were initiated and ignored by the suspect, who was shot and killed several hours later after he opened fire on the team.

In 2003, the Washoe County, NV Sheriff’s Office deployed the BEAR to end an eight-hour standoff between police and a suicidal shooter. Inside a trailer on a residential street, shots were being fired during a domestic dispute between the suspect and his brother. After seven hours of negotiation, the Sheriff’s Office decided to use the BEAR to get close to the suspect and deploy gas. However, they were faced with two obstacles: a van that was blocking the path to the trailer and a six-foot-high wooden fence.

They used the BEAR’s winch to tow the van and then drove the armored truck right through the fence. The suspect emerged from the trailer and surrendered without incident, and the vehicle sustained no dents or scratches. Dave Butko of the Sheriff’s Office was impressed with the overall performance of the BEAR.

The Monroe County, WI Combined Tactical Unit had the opportunity to experience first-hand the versatility of the BearCat in December 2005. After officers of the Tomah Police Department responded to a reported disturbance at an apartment building, they were fired on from inside one of the apartments. The team leader of the multi-agency Tactical Unit, Sergeant Christopher Weaver, requested that the BearCat be brought in to diffuse the situation.

Within the hour, the vehicle was on the scene removing officers from the kill zone in front of the apartment building and evacuating residents from the two apartments on either side of the suspect. The tactical plan called for using the BearCat to breach a window to return fire and determine the location of the suspect.

Officers inside the rescue hatch of the vehicle provided cover during the entry, and the suspect (later confirmed as already deceased) was secured. Weaver said the BearCat “provided an unparalleled level of safety for my team members, the officers who were pinned down and the uninvolved citizens.”

Lenco manufactures many variations of both the BEAR and the BearCat. For example, the BearCat is offered in seven different models: BearCat LE armored SWAT truck, BearCat MIL armored APC, BearCat MedEvac armored medical evacuation vehicle, BearCat EOD armored vehicle for Bomb Units, BearCat G3 off-road variant for law enforcement, BearCat G4 M-ATV armored All-Terrain vehicle, and BearCat VIP/SUV armored vehicle for diplomatic missions.

Lenco’s standard, pre-engineered SWAT armored vehicles can be customized to meet specific mission requirements. Its design staff continues to create new features and options. Additional variants and features can be produced and added to existing SWAT vehicles, allowing them to perform multiple roles. Funding opportunities available through the GSA and the Department of Homeland Security can be accessed at

Susan Geoghegan is a freelance writer living in Naples, Florida.  She can be reached at

Published in Tactical Response, Jan/Feb 2010

Rating : 6.0

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