The Toyota Land Cruiser and the Hilux and Ford Ranger utes are going into the United States – but only to be modified for use by the US military’s special forces.
Once finished, the vehicles will look pretty much like the civilian examples seen daily on New Zealand roads – but under the sheet metal will be all sorts of military muscle.
Long-term US defence contractor the Battelle Memorial Institute (BMI) will develop them for the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), a covert outfit based at an air force HQ in Florida.
The US$170 million contract is for 556 vehicles – 396 armoured – over the next five years. Most will be workhorse Land Cruiser 70 series variants. A potential two-year extension on the contract is worth US$60 million.
The brief from SOCOM to BMI is for SUVs and utes that look like ordinary stock vehicles but have upgraded suspension and brakes and bristle with communications equipment, firepower and ballistic protection, including run-flat tyres designed to survive small-arms fire.
The Toyotas and Fords will have various levels of enhanced crew protection, as well as infrared lighting, blackout mode, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance equipment.
BMI began business in Columbus, Ohio, in 1929, but its link to the US military goes back to the development of armour for tanks in World War II. For the past 11 years it has been designing, building and delivering commercial-style armored vehicles.
The ground vehicle team takes existing vehicles and reengineers them for durability, adding things like more powerful alternators to withstand extreme climates.
“Battelle has a proven track record of performing sophisticated systems integration for military and commercial applications,” said Fred Byus, vice president of Battelle’s Mission and Defense Technologies business.
“Under this contract, our vehicle systems team will execute on its custom designs and integrate complex systems to meet mission requirements—at a competitive cost.”