Special Operators Look for Easy Vehicle Upgrades
From taking down adversaries to evacuating casualties, Special Operations Command elements rely on the development and addition of vehicle integration kits to enhance or expand many of their tactical capabilities.
Bolt-on or other post-production modifications to provide additional weaponry, cargo capacity or sensing capabilities can be found on a range of light and medium vehicle platforms currently in use by special operators.
As for the smaller platforms, the Light Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle has featured several modifications for commandos in the field.
The current all-terrain vehicle is a follow-on program to a lightweight vehicle family that has been in special operations forces inventories for several years.
SOCOM recently outlined several desired modification kits in a performance specification table, which highlighted the desired ability for the vehicle “to include a field-installable weapons mounting provision for Military Systems Group H24-6 Machine Gun Mounts” — further identifying the “threshold” requirement to mount the MSG SA-10 swing arm at the front and rear passenger positions as well as an “objective” requirement for mounting provisions for an optional rear-facing seating position.
Additionally, an identified alternative for the objective solution involved “mounting provisions for medium and/or heavy machine guns located on top of the [roll-over protection system] with a 150-degree forward field of fire.”
Other early identified capabilities ranged from a “field configurable ... track conversion system to allow high mobility in deep snow” to the threshold capability “of securely carrying one standard military Talon II model 90C litter loaded with one fully equipped male SOF operator longitudinally in the rear of the vehicle” with an objective desire to double that litter capability, the document said.
In early June 2020, Polaris Government and Defense announced its receipt of a General Services Administration contract for the company to satisfy the follow-on requirement.
Since that announcement, the company has publicly displayed several of the specialized modifications developed for that platform.
Nick Francis, vice president, Polaris Government and Defense, said the MRZR Alpha is “our most modular vehicle to date in terms of mission configurations.”
“We have the cab kit on the vehicle, and we have climate control inside that cab kit as well, to expand the use cases for this type of vehicle and give some occupant protection inside. We also have a snow track kit coming out. I would say that in the next year we will be selling production kits for the cab and the tracks,” he told reporters at the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference in October.
Some of the “special kits” are already in production, he said. “We have a modular cargo kit, where the back seats come out and bed panels lay down to extend the amount of space in the bed. We also have side rails and tailgate, which makes it into a really long load carrying type of vehicle. That’s in production now and available now,” he added.
Asked whether the long load carrying configurations would support a military litter, Francis said, “On the base vehicle as it sits now, with the tailgate, you can run two litters on the back without removing the seats. If you have no tailgate, you can remove two seats and run two litters. That’s on both the two-seat and four-seat versions of the vehicle.”
Francis emphasized the importance of user community feedback. “We have been manufacturing MRZR since 2013 ... so, we have 10 years of feedback from light forces — Marine Corps, special forces — on those types of vehicles and that helped inform the design for the MRZR Alpha.”
There are several new design and handling features, he said. “There is a big improvement over our previous models in terms of the amount of cubic inches available to store equipment. It’s actually 60 percent more,” he said.
Another tactical design change on the MRZR Alpha involves placement of the second row of seats slightly higher, providing greater situational awareness.
Francis noted that in 2023 Polaris will debut what are called the “year two accessories” for the MRZR Alpha, which were completing their final phases of validation in late 2022.
“That’s the track kit, the cab kit and a top-mounted weapons pintle as well, so they can mount a swing arm to the roof of the vehicle for shooting the M240 [machine gun] or other 7.62mm or 5.56mm machine guns,” he said.
Although not specifically built for special operators, the Army’s new Infantry Squad Vehicle has been identified for a number of kit upgrades that would facilitate special ops applications. Under a contract awarded in June 2020, GM Defense is providing the Army with the light and agile vehicles intended to transport a nine-soldier infantry squad and their equipment.
Although intended for fielding to the broader Army, the ISV also provides a base platform for potential SOF modifications or upgrades.
Several of the possible special operations forces modifications identified by the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment were revealed during the October conference.
“This vehicle is shown with a kit that we’re developing for the [75th] Rangers,” said Paul Beaker, chief engineer and director of advanced product development at GM Defense. “They have shown some interest in adding some features to the ISV.”
Pointing to the example of medical litters installed on the vehicle, he said “The [standard] ISV is set up to have one litter in the second row of seats. But we have to fold the seats up to do that. In expressing their desires, the Rangers were clear: ‘If we bring nine [Rangers] in then we want to bring nine back out. So, we don’t want to give up any seats.’”
GM Defense developed litters to go on each side of the vehicle, while also providing a space between the litters for a medic to treat the patients, even while the vehicle is in motion, Beaker said.
“There are also many storage opportunities,” he added. “If you look at the vehicle on display, you will see nylon bags to store gear, weapons and ammunition. And we have put some guns on it as well. And in the back, we have placed a rack to store jerry cans and other equipment and gear.”
Emphasizing that he was not in any way speaking for the Rangers, he added, “When we are talking with the Rangers, we realize that they are often ‘the first in.’ And so, to some degree, they have a lot of autonomy. They have to carry different types of gear and they have to be able to move quickly.”
The Ranger kit on display was simply representative of how the company could make quick vehicle modifications to meet user needs, he said.
“This kit was really trying to support some of their specific needs,” he said. “But we can expand it even beyond the 75th Ranger Regiment. We’ve had a lot of different variations that we’ve built out the ISV family of vehicles. We plan to take this kit and broaden it to Special Forces and really customize it to meet their needs as we did with the Rangers,” he added.
“We didn’t do this because we wanted to do this,” he continued. “This was what the Rangers asked for. So, we quickly went off, prototyped all of this in a few weeks and then went back and said: ‘We want to make sure we understand that this is what you are asking for.’ So, we reacted to their feedback and their responses.”
As a further example of the company’s ability to rapidly modify the ISV chassis, he pointed to another vehicle in the display area from which the rear seats had been removed and replaced by a pickup truck box.
“Again, what we’re trying to show is the versatility of the basic platform,” he said. “It can do many things. So, this is really a utility vehicle. We can haul more gear and equipment. We can put some different things in the back of it as well, like a counter-UAS system or a flip-out mortar that sits on the ground. You can imagine all the possibilities that open with this cargo bed.”
At the heavier end of the tactical vehicle spectrum, special forces elements have operated modified versions of the mine resistant ambush protected all-terrain vehicle, or M-ATV, and RG-33-A1 MRAP. Both platforms are currently in sustainment, with reset activities having started in fiscal year 2019 at Red River Army Depot in Texas and Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow in California.
In terms of future special operations kits, special operations leaders have expressed some potential interest in the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV).
Vince Grizio, deputy program manager for the family of special operations vehicles, discussed the platform at the National Defense Industrial Association’s 2022 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference.
“We will be looking at all of the SOF mods — whether it’s on a JLTV, M-ATV, or anything like that if there’s a requirement for those smaller platforms — how to go ahead and put that on a JLTV,” he said.
“So, we’re thinking remote controlled weapon station all the way down to where you put the spare tire,” he added.
Non-standard casualty evacuation is another interest, he said. “Particularly modifications to the vehicle that can bolt-on/bolt-off. But we’re not looking to make a ‘SOF-solution.’”