We live in an increasingly disruptive world where the severity of incidents, if not the frequency, has required more departments to look at the need for heavy duty hardware in their tactical vehicle lineup. Cost, usability and resource allocation must be considered well in advance of putting time, funding and assets toward operating a SWAT-oriented vehicle.
In order to understand the many options available, I contacted Lenny Light at Lenco Armored Vehicles, makers of the Lenco Bear and BearCat. In my April 2008 article, I featured the Lenco Bear that the Phoenix (Ariz.) PD incorporated into their fleet. Although it’s important to note that there are numerous manufacturers in the tactical vehicle marketplace, Lenco’s credentials of having provided more than 5,000 tactical vehicles in more than 40 countries since 1981 make them, and Lenny, a great source for answering the most commonly asked questions an agency might have when considering a tactical armored vehicle.
Benefits of an Armored Vehicle
Other than the obvious visual and size differences, an armored SWAT vehicle offers a variety of other benefits compared to a patrol vehicle. The primary importance of a SWAT vehicle is rooted in its ability to provide elevated armor protection. This provides time for a tactical team to evaluate and react when immersed in a high-threat environment. As we know, and have learned through some very sobering events recently, no scenario can be fully predicted when dealing with hostile individuals, regardless of the planning.
Therefore, tactical vehicles, such as the Lenco BearCat, allow a SWAT team to enter a situation and modify their entry plan if necessary. This places the vehicle in direct proximity to high-threat sources, which reinforces the need and importance of high-level ballistic armor protection. In the case of the Lenco BearCat, it means .50 Cal BMG protection, a ballistic rating to exceed NIJ IV and Mil-Spec steel construction required by the Department of Defense for use in armor applications where personnel protection is involved.
The importance of proper armor rating can’t be overstated. Protection against .50 caliber rounds, 7.62 armor-piercing (AP) rounds and .30 caliber AP rounds (standard with Lenco) should be mandatory because, after all, it’s an armored vehicle and all other features are secondary if the armor doesn’t stop bullets.
Note: The NIJ IV standard armor rating isn’t consistent across the SWAT vehicle industry, so it’s important to ask about it when talking with a manufacturer. Some suppliers provide NIJ IV as an upgrade—meaning, if you don’t ask questions, you might not be as protected as you think. As Light says, not knowing your armor rating while deploying into a potentially hostile situation, where split-second decision-making has monumental implications, is a dangerous prospect.
Most SWAT vehicles have room for 8–12 personnel, which allows room for several SWAT members, a tactical medic and a crisis negotiator. Together, these individuals can strategize and react to evolving situations. SWAT vehicles can also be beneficial in natural disaster or citizen rescue missions because a vehicle the size of a BearCat can accommodate 10–15 for rapid evacuation.
As in other areas of law enforcement, command presence can go a long way toward stabilizing or defusing a potentially hostile situation. In short, a hardcore armored vehicle lets suspects know you mean business, and lets the more seasoned criminal know that the stakes just went way up if they continue to act in an unlawful manner.
Features to Consider Before Buying
When selecting an armored unit for your department, consider where the vehicle will be used—i.e., your agency will need to choose between an on-road or off-road tire package. Although some manufacturers offer 4-x-4 as standard, not all options are. And even if the vehicle is 4-x-4, the selection of a tire package has an impact of the off-road capabilities. Although many agencies don’t typically incur heavy off-road usage, an off-road package can be important because it provides better curb clearance and the ability to drive into rural areas and onto front lawns. If that isn’t an issue, an on-road tire package would be appropriate for agencies like state police where heavy mileage and high-speed usage is projected.
The number of doors (two vs. four) is another consideration. For example, the two-door BearCat provides longer bench space for two additional operators (two in front and ten behind) and rear doors for entry/outlet, while the four-door BearCat allows entry/outlet on both sides of the vehicle. According to Light, the added ability to deploy from either side of the vehicle makes the four-door an excellent choice because threats can be addressed from multiple angles.
Protection against CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosives) threats is another important consideration for the armored vehicle. These threats can be addressed through the use of integrated equipment like explosive gas detection, radiation detection, thermal image cameras and on-board, self-contained breathing apparatus (proprietary on the BearCat). According to Light, the CBRNE incident response equipment outlined above is often a requirement when tactical vehicles are funded by Department of Homeland Security grant funding.
How Are Armored Vehicles Improving?
Similar to the patrol vehicle market, a lot has changed in the armored vehicle market since 2009. According to Light, the design, standard features and capabilities of the armored vehicle have changed drastically in the last 3–4 years, much of which resulted from tactical community feedback. Most new features being requested by purchasers are safety related, says Light.
One area that’s been a consistently improved component of the BearCat is armored overlap. Lenco vehicles have been involved in some of the worst ballistic confrontations in the U.S. (without a single ballistic penetration), and have witnessed an increasingly informed criminal element with an improved knowledge of perceived vehicle weak points—window and door seams, gun ports, door handles, glass, hood, radiator armor and headlight buckets. These require a sophisticated design to prevent ballistic penetrations because the bad guy isn’t firing aimlessly at SWAT vehicles anymore.
Tactical Vehicle Training
As can be expected, a vehicle of this nature requires specialized training to maximize its capabilities. This training should include a full orientation on the unit your agency ordered, including all equipment on board, all commonly asked questions and a full vehicle test drive. Lenco recommends that anyone who attends the BearCat orientation immediately train relevant personnel on the vehicle following its delivery. The manufacturer should also provide a full operator manual to assist in training on every component of the vehicle.
As for tactical training, Light says there are many associations that provide specific tactical training for vehicles like the BearCat. In Lenco’s case, associations like Security Solutions International (www.HomelandSecuritySSI.com), FTF Tactics (www.FTFTactics.com) and Integrated Tactical Concepts (www.IntegratedTacticalConcepts.com) are just a few providers of vehicle-specific tactical training.
As for driver training, schools like the Tony Scotti Vehicle Dynamics Institute (www.VehicleDynamics.net) have developed a mission-oriented driver skill course for tactical vehicles that covers all aspects of dynamic vehicle operation. Agencies that consider a new tactical armored vehicle should ask the manufacturer what driver training options are available for operators.
One of the challenges associated with armored vehicles is the price. When it comes to grants, Light says the first requirement to acquiring funds is that the tactical vehicle be listed as approved for inclusion in a grant program. As an example, the BearCat is on the Approved Equipment List for 10 different grant programs. Light says that the most commonly used grant programs are Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) and the State Homeland Grant Program (SHSP). Because of this, it’s important for an agency to ask potential suppliers which, if any, of their vehicles qualify for grant programs.
Agencies should also ask if the supplier can assist with matching the appropriate grants to the vehicle, and if grant writing help is available. In Lenco’s case, a free grant writing help guide and grant application review prior to submission are available.
Also, since it’s another specialized vehicle in the fleet, parts and ongoing maintenance must be addressed. However, since the BearCat is based on a Ford model, most agencies are already familiar with the commercial side of the parts and maintenance. The armor portion of after-service support is contingent on the manufacturer’s ability to address concerns with fleet managers.
Tactical armored vehicles are a necessity for today’s turbulent world. They’re a tool that can provide critical operational capability and team survivability under the worst of conditions. Because of this, agencies considering the purchase of one should undertake a comprehensive needs-analysis process. Use this article as a starting point and work cohesively with a reputable armored vehicle manufacturer to determine the best vehicle option.
Lenco Armored Vehicles
Mobile Concepts by Scotty
The Armored Group