Saturday, September 24, 2005

Awaiting trickle down of features.

Armoured car market is $1 billion business

750 words
22 September 2005
New Zealand Herald
(c) 2005 The New Zealand Herald

SUVs adapted to withstand fact that most attacks on vehicles involve explosive devices rather than bullets.

Armoured cars are now considered almost essential for all high-profile figures in dangerous parts of the world.

But US President George W Bush's vehicle is thought to be the most advanced ever.

The exact security measures built into his Cadillac de Ville are a secret. But it is almost certain to have:

12cm-thick armour, on and under the car and able to withstand rocket- propelled grenades

Extra wide wheels rims and tyres that function even if punctured

Air-tight seals to withstand chemical and biological attacks

Night-vision capability, should lights fail

A fuel tank designed to resist explosions

6cm-thick laminated glass windows

One of the first armoured cars for a political leader is understood to have been a limousine built for US President Harry S. Truman in 1949.

Today, the technology has greatly moved on and it has been shown to save lives.

In 1998, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's motorcade was ambushed by men using light arms, machine guns and rocket- propelled grenades.

Three people were killed but thanks to the armour in his limousine, Shevardnadze escaped unharmed.

Six years earlier, Italy's top anti- Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone died when a bomb exploded under his car.

The attack prompted armoured car specialists to improve protection on the underside of cars.

In one 1998 incident, an armoured Canadian vehicle detonated a buried anti-tank mine.

Such was the force of the blast that the vehicle was thrown into the air and crashed down on its roof.

The occupants suffered minor injuries but the vehicle's cabin was intact.

The mine left a crater two metres wide.

Now American specialist Armor Holdings has launched the IE-defence system, the world's first sports utility vehicle equipped to withstand explosive attacks.

It says commercially available SUVs and other passenger vehicles adapted to protect passengers account for nearly $1 billion of the global vehicle armouring market.

Armor says its intensified explosive defence system protects against an initial explosive attack and a subsequent attack by assault rifle with armour-piercing bullets.

It says 75 per cent of attacks on vehicles involve explosive devices rather than bullets, so the system has been tested to withstand high- energy fragments up to 20mm, typically the largest fragment from a roadside bomb.

The company fitted its ``shell within a shell'' armour to the latest Range Rover and then brought an explosive firestorm down upon it.

In the end, the Range Rover was able to be driven away. Arnmor Holdings upgrades the chassis and suspension to carry the extra weight and re-builds the brakes with technology borrowed from Formula One.

Other security features on the Range Rover include digital cameras in the front and rear to help the driver monitor suspicious vehicles and traffic, and help him steer out of trouble if the windscreen is obscured by cracks after bullets strike, or the backseat passenger has drawn the curtain.

Vehicles such as the presidential Cadillac use an infra-red camera to scan the road.

The heat signature of all objects ahead is converted into a view of the road which is projected onto the inside of the windscreen.

This technology can provide clearer images of people or objects than headlights, even in the dead of night.

Since the armoured shell is only effective while you are inside, an intercom system allows the passengers to speak to people outside without unwinding the windows.

A bomb detector can sense the magnetic field variation caused by some kinds of device, though the floor is specially reinforced against this threat. An oxygen bottle in the trunk can keep the passengers breathing for 20 minutes in the event of a gas attack.

There is also back-up battery to keep the electrics and air conditioner going.

Re-enforced bumpers allow the chauffeur to ram other cars off the road to enable a swift getaway.

The Michelin run-flat tyres enables the vehicle to drive for up to 100km at 80-100km/h even when the tyres have being shredded.

Hoses and sprinklers fitted around the car extinguish fires while a self-sealing fuel tank prevents petrol leaks.

If escaping from the mobile fortress becomes necessary, a thin strip of plastic explosive blows an escape hatch through the rear windscreen in the same way a jet fighter's canopy shatters before the pilot ejects.


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