Nearly any vehicle can be armored. How much armor it can withstand depends on many factors but is typically limited by the suspension, brakes and weight capacity of the vehicle. Most armored vehicles have modified suspensions and brakes to accommodate the added weight. Some need little to no modification such as a Ford F-550 or other heavy duty trucks as they are designed to carry heavy weight. All armored vehicles at the time they are manufactured are equipped with run flat tires.
Classes of Armored Vehicles
In the US, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) rates all armor (including body armor) in 8 levels of protection known as threat levels which are Class I, IIA, II, IIIA, III, IV, V & VI. In Europe as well as many other parts of the world they are typically rated as levels B1-B7 using the Euronorm Standard EN1063 scale. Both scales are similar in how they rate protection. Armor is typically tested at ranges from 5 meters to 15 meters, depending upon the class/rating and weapon.
Class NIJ I/B1and NIJ IIA/B2 are rarely ever used in vehicle armoring. Class NIJ IIA/B2 will defeat 9mm, .38 Special and lesser rounds but will only slow down bullets from larger caliber weapons. Class NIJ II/B3 will defeat .357 Magnum rounds or lesser threats and Class NIJ IIIA/B4 will defeat .44 Magnum rounds or lesser threats. The scales start to separate at this point. Class NIJ III is capable of defeating 7.62X39 rounds from a Kalishnikov rifle at 5 meters and B5 level armor is similar. B6, B7 and NIJ IV, V, VI has similar gaps. There are charts available that are searchable on Google for more definitive ratings.
At the B6/NIJ IV level and above the armor is designed to stop some serious threats. The threats range from 7.62X51 (.308) up to 30.06 AP (Armor Piercing) and Penetrator rounds. Most sedans are rated at Level NIJ III/B4 or NIJ IV/B5 which gives adequate protection against many threats. SUV’s, trucks and Police specific Vehicles are typically armored at B6/NIJ V or better. Police/SWAT type trucks are often designed to defeat .50 caliber rounds. Vehicles with B5, B6, B7/NIJ IV, V, VI vehicles are also very resistant to explosions from road side and suicide bombs and are typically designed to defeat such threats. Environmental systems that can filter out NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) agents can also be installed on many armored vehicles.
How much does an armored vehicle weigh?
Once a vehicle has been armored its driving characteristics may change dramatically. Armor plate can weigh 1500-2500 pounds or more depending on the level of protection. In a sedan, light SUV, or light truck, the vehicle may be more prone to roll over, acceleration is greatly reduced and braking power is severely affected. In SUVs and light trucks, 2500 pounds of armor plate can meet or exceed the manufacturer’s cargo capacity.
A typical full size, four door sedan has a carrying capacity of 1000-1200 pounds. Without heavy modification to the vehicle, armor choices are limited. As a result of these changes Body Guards, Police Officers and Military personnel who operate armored vehicles are typically sent to a driving school specifically for the operation of armored vehicles.
The cost for armor plating a vehicle can be as much as the vehicle itself or even more for heavily armored vehicles. Fuel costs will be greatly increased due to the added weight as well.
Who can buy armored vehicles?
In the US, the average person typically cannot purchase an armored vehicle. You need to have a business or personal justification for an armored vehicle as well as any required permits and certifications.
In the US and Europe, companies that offer Executive protection (Body Guard) services will usually have at least one heavily armored B6/NIJ V vehicle in their fleet and may have several vehicles with lighter armor such as B4/NIJ III as well as non-armored vehicles. These vehicles are often the same model and same color. The untrained eye will not be able to tell which vehicles have armor and which do not. It is impossible to tell what level armor has been installed from outside of the vehicle and even an interior glimpse may reveal little as well.
In Africa, The Middle East and parts of South America, B6/NIJ V or better armored vehicles are the standard. The threat levels in these areas are always changing and may escalate within a matter of minutes. Bombs, assault rifles, machine guns, RPG’s and hand grenades are common threats. Many affluent people and businesses own armored vehicles in these regions to thwart kid napping and coup attempts.
It is commonplace to have a crew served weapon such as a machine gun in the rear of the vehicle to defeat assaults from the rear of the vehicle or motorcade. Gun ports can also be installed in doors and windows making it possible to fire weapons from inside of the vehicle without compromising security. Armored glass is the heaviest, strongest and most expensive part of the armor system.
What does an armored vehicle cost?
Prices for new armored vehicles range from $70,000 USD through $135,000 USD for common vehicles such as those made domestically or imported from Japan. Armor plating is typically $20,000 USD through $50,000 USD per vehicle depending on the level of armor, vehicle type and modifications needed to install the armor. High-end vehicles such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Maybach armored vehicles will be well above average prices and can exceed $350,000 USD. SWAT and Police armored trucks range from $140,000 USD through $250,000 USD.
Armored Personnel Carriers, Armored Fighting Vehicles and Main Battle Tanks used by Military and peacekeeping forces world have considerable more armor capable of defeating all small arms as well as most crew served and vehicle mounted weapons. Bombs and other incendiaries pose little to no threat to many of these vehicles.
These vehicles are only for sale to Governments, Police Agencies or Government Contractors licensed and authorized to purchase them. Many of these vehicles are amphibious, have NBC systems and night vision installed from the factory enabling the vehicles to operate in total darkness, in almost any terrain or environment. Prices for used or re-manufactured vehicles typically start in the $250,000 range and can reach in to the millions of dollars.
If you are the market for an armored vehicle I hope this has given you some idea of what you might need. If you are not in the market for an armored vehicle I hope this was informative and entertaining.