“You shouldn’t do things differently just because they’re different. They need to be… better. ” 

~ Elon Musk

All Principals by the nature of their position in society or work must frequently travel by car. Commercially, if the Principal has a CP Team working for him, he will more than likely be accompanied by the Personal Escort Section, (PES), in a second vehicle, (back-up), during such road moves. The use of vehicles, advanced driving and protective mobile skills within the CP environment is one of the most important facets of Close Protection. Conversely, it is also one of the most over looked and/ or ignored aspects in training due to reasons of cost and time, but more relevantly, a lack of personal experience, training and integrity of many of those involved with ensuring the security of a VIP. There also remains a lack of understanding with realisation of the importance associated with advanced driving. It must be noted that not only had the SIA also failed to include this very important subject matter in their list of basic ‘core competencies’, they failed to include the basic driving license as a mandatory prerequisite for Close Protection training.

Typically, during any two-car move, the PES vehicle will travel directly behind the VIP vehicle, blocking other traffic, lanes, junctions and other roads and ‘vetting’ any overtaking vehicles on motorways. Dependant on the operation in terms of threat either actual or perceived by the Principal or security advisors, combined with the financial budget available, this could be increased by a further vehicle to operate more flexibly, either acting as a satellite, advance or travelling 2 or 3 vehicles behind the VIP Group, (VIP & PES vehicles), in a counter surveillance and detection role. A Counter Attack Team, (CAT); in higher risk operations would also undertake this role.

Reasons for a VIP Protection Advanced Driver are:

  • To provide the safest and securest method of transport possible for the VIP utilising specialist advanced driving techniques, protective mobile skills and route appreciation
  • To provide a smooth and progressive drive
  • To ensure the VIP will have the peace of mind in the knowledge that his driver is the best one can offer, having the ability to recognise trouble at the earliest opportunity and deal with it professionally and competently.
  • To provide security of the VIP vehicle itself and items contained within.

Reasons for a Back-Up vehicle are:

  • To provide mobile protection to the VIP vehicle by manoeuvring, blocking and dominating the road to the rear whilst in transit, at a halt, and static.
  • To provide route advance protection as and when dictated by situations on the ground
  • To provide as an ‘over-watch’ for surveillance detection
  • To provide the use as a ‘ramming vehicle’ to create a clear path through either a block front, (and/ or block rear), and to aid evacuation
  • To provide anti-ambush mobile fire support in the event of attack
  • To provide a second vehicle in the event of VIP vehicle breakdown or traffic accident
  • To provide transport of the CP Team remainder and team equipment
  • To provide/ extend Electronic Counter-Measures, (ECM), coverage.

Vehicle Selection

The selection of all vehicles used in an operation is very much a luxury not many commercial teams enjoy. This is mainly due to the Principals preference of choice in which he would prefer to travel but this does not always, or necessarily, reflects any detrimental purpose to the protection operation. Mercedes, BMW, Rolls Royce, and Bentley are all names we are familiar and certainly, within the UK and elsewhere in Europe, it can be left to the Principals decision without the need for any security advisory intervention to be given in respect of the choice.

– Area of Use

The area of use is the over-riding factor in providing any advice with recommendations to the Principal as to the suitability of the VIP vehicle. Parts of Africa, South America and countries in the East have roads not suitable for such limousines and therefore decisions must be made as to the most appropriate. I was leading a team in Venezuela comprising a member of my team and two local drivers plus one. Due to such a short notice move I was unable to conduct all the pre-arrival requisites as I would want and so the Boss’s office had arranged the hotel, vehicles and the local drivers. Not exactly the ideal situation but that’s the influence of the commercial world. On arrival at the hotel late at night I had arranged to meet the drivers with their vehicles for a brief and a confirmatory check. The Boss was due to arrive in the morning and I wanted to square everything away before getting some much-needed sleep. The importance of checking arrangements and checking again is highlighted with the fact that the vehicles the office had arranged were two stretched soft skin limo’s from a wedding chauffeur company with chauffeurs that were not security trained or aware whatsoever. Fortunately, prior to departing UK I had contacted the British Embassy for details of a vetted security company for the provision of an armoured Mercedes, armoured SUV and trained drivers, and provisionally arranged with them the possibility of their services in reserve should all else fails. One hour later all was arranged to my satisfaction. The company even facilitated my requirement for ‘extra weapons’ in the cars at such short notice. A quick call to the Boss’s office to let them know what changes had been made and the operation had a much-improved starting block.

Quite often; one can make a distinct relation between the increased threat due to the location and the standard of ground and the requirement for 4 x 4 SUV’s. Generally, if the country’s infrastructure is low/ of a poor standard then a much higher local crime rate will exist. You could gamble via the internet inside online pokies nz real money. A 4 x 4 SUV will naturally provide a far more stable and comfortable journey for the VIP over a road that is at times, non-existent. From a security perspective, the VIP travelling in a vehicle which is a higher ride and built more robustly is also an advantage that cannot be ignored.

– Role of Use

When deciding on a backup vehicle to use you must first consider a number of factors. The over-riding factor is the role of use. A back up vehicle that is to be used in a covert manner for example requires a vehicle to blend in. A coloured, (not black but obviously not bright yellow), VW or Ford saloon model type as a follow to the Boss’s Mercedes is not a common sight and would not normally be expected or indeed, looked for.

Other factors concerning the choice of vehicles can be influenced by perception of public opinion and political correctness. The Department of Transport urges Ministers to buy British. The British-made Jaguar is obviously a public statement to not only the British public but also on the international scene. However, to use a British-made Rolls Royce would be verging on the pretentious for a PM for example as well as questionable to the taxpayer, regardless of the heavier handling characteristics. It must also be noted that to soften the ‘aggressive tone’ of the protection, a coloured back-up vehicle is often used, as opposed to a ‘standard’ black.

During a low-profile op involving a protective surveillance team these are the vehicles that should be used. Arrival at the venue with the discreet follow vehicle stopping short drastically reduces the Boss’s image stamp, enhances his business image, and can increase the overall security, (with or without a covert SAP). These are more specialist operations however, but Range Rover’s, Vogue or Sport models, (although the latter are somewhat ‘bling’), are the predominant choices for back-up PES vehicles due to the following:

  • To provide a high ride for observation purposes forward and rear of the VIP vehicle
  • To provide a good 360° arc through glass observation
  • To dominate the road to the rear due to the presence of the vehicle
    To provide a blocking and ramming vehicle capability
    To provide a better firing platform to the rear due to rear split door opening
  • To provide longer range radio communications
  • To provide ECM coverage
  • To provide a large passenger and boot compartment.

Armoured Vehicles

The bad guys had them first. Bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde and Chicago mob boss Al Capone pioneered the ownership of armoured cars. Early examples were crude but effective. Builders welded heavy steel plates to the car’s outer panels and fitted extra layers of glass to the windows. Driving the resulting behemoth around corners was almost as life threatening as a hail of bullets. Any ballistic strike on the unlamented windscreens sprayed occupants with shards of glass. Despite America’s well-established history of presidential assassinations, the government was slow to protect its vehicles. Harry S. Truman was the first U.S. president to use an armoured car for some official engagements, but when President John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas in November 1963 the Secret Service finally got the message. From then on, all presidential vehicles were armoured. Ironically, the first official supplier was Hess & Eisenhardt, a manufacturer that had previously specialized in hearses and ambulances.

In the early 1970’s, a growing and well-founded fear of kidnapping and terrorism in developing countries stimulated a vigorous new market for “civilian” armoured cars. Fabricators experimented with new materials: ballistic steel, poly carbonate-backed glass, fibreglass, and Kevlar. The finished product was still obvious and unwieldy, but proved its worth in hundreds of thwarted attacks.

In the early ‘90s, three technical developments revolutionised the armoured car industry: new, lightweight synthetic laminates; vastly improved ballistic glass; and moulded door and window overlaps (to stop bullets and explosive pressure from entering the interior). Armoured cars were suddenly cheaper, faster, safer, and stealthier. Thanks to constantly improving technology and ever-increasing awareness of violent assault, the international armoured car market has grown by an estimated 30 % per year for the last 10 years. Sensing the commercial potential, Ford, Cadillac, Mercedes, BMW, and other major automotive manufactures have teamed up with established armourers to armour their upscale models. Post- 9/11, the future of the armoured car looks as assured as the safety of the customers sheltered inside their high-tech car-coons.

If you are employed in a high-risk environment there is a high probability you will have armoured vehicles at your disposal. Armoured vehicles are essential for all high-profile figures in dangerous parts of the world. They are also essential when the threat dictates against a person. For the most part in Europe, only the VIP vehicle would be armoured. In high-risk countries this could also be the case. It can remain a subjective decision whether or not the back-up vehicle is also armoured. The argument against is one of manoeuvrability combined with covering fire whilst mobile. Obviously, the PES would not have the capability to return fire through armoured glass; however, the compromise in such environments is for the armoured vehicle to have portholes. The ‘flip-side’ is the opinion that the security team are ‘expendable’ and if it facilitates them countering the attack quicker and easier then that should be the decision. Whatever the view, the tools of the trade provide choices that must be made relevant to the overall threat assessment and the immediate action drills of the protection team during their reaction to attack tactics.

Operating in environments such as Iraq whereby the situation is one of abnormality in terms of CP standard operating procedures for ‘normal arenas’ requires a re-think of methods to be adopted. Armoured vehicles are a plenty in such a country and can be identified easily and at distance. They naturally become a target and in comparison to operations in the same country whereby the protection convoy consists of local ‘soft skin’ vehicles and the team comprising of employed locals befits an advantage that cannot be ignored. Of course, this is not always possible. The Boss may be of such high stature that the option of travelling in such a nondescript manner is not conducive to his business, his reputation and other influencing factors. It is possible those positions would have air cover provided and if so, the option of air travel for the Boss is one that should also be utilised. Combinations of operating methods and tactics together with routine/ location & route avoidance combats intelligence gathering by the enemy ensuring they remain in a hap-hazard place of guess work as much as possible. The planning phase is a meticulous process in CP which is also heightened according to the risk to threat ratio.

Two types of armoured vehicles exist; those that are manufactured from scratch, built around the chassis, (factory fit), and those built as an add-on to already existing vehicles, (custom fit). Years ago, the former far exceeded the latter in reliability and effectiveness. Wear and tear was much increased on ‘transformed’ custom vehicles and the general standard of drive was noticeably not on par with those armoured that had been an original intended factory build. However, some 95% of the world vehicles are now custom built and are in use by 19 world presidents. All cars and 4 by 4s in Iraq, for instance, are custom built. In comparison to factory built up armoured, manufacturers costs of custom build outweigh the benefits to the extent that you could actually have an armoured protection vehicle for the difference in price. Armoured cash trucks are typically custom built as are the majority of armoured military vehicles; chassis are purchased and body armour is fitted to suit. Having sat in both you will not tell the difference except in client comfort.

Even B4 handgun protection by a manufacturer is an extremely heavy car and most noticeable in door weight. The only difference that is noticeable on a custom car is the overlap protection around the door. The internal finish is not affected or panels distorted in any way. The overlaps are the same colour and so the car interior so does not stand out. It’s purely a customer choice and custom armouring will always be better value between 40-50% less with options manufacturers cannot or do not offer. B6+ is usually the preferred level of protection that includes multiple impact glass as well as body armour. The only difference between this and the highest level, B7, is that the latter protects against armour piercing rounds. The increased weight at this level, however, is considerable and greatly reduces the life-span of the vehicle. One company, Armormax, (US), installs a body armour composite of ceramic and polymer that is 40% lighter than the equivalent armour resistant steel achieving increased client comfort without the excessively heavy doors thus maintaining important vehicle road handling abilities.

Principles of Vehicle Protection

There are three basic principles to armoured vehicles:

  • Protection at point of attack
  • Counter-measures
  • Ability to evade and escape

‘The Real World’

It is imperative that the driver of such vehicles is properly trained and familiar with the vehicles driving characteristics. A vehicle weighing some three or four tons will dramatically increase the braking distance. Handling corners and acceleration will also be greatly affected and to the uninitiated the vehicle must be driven in all weather conditions to become fully competent to convey the Principal safely. Wear and tear on such vehicles is rapid. Armoured Vauxhall Omegas I used in Northern Ireland for instance had the equivalent of Formula One disk brakes fitted and even these resulted in a life expectancy quarter of their ‘soft skin’ counterparts. Visibility is probably the main factor and hindrance to driving armoured vehicles although this has dramatically improved over recent years. The curvature of the windscreen disfigures the view, especially at the corners. Combine this with the vehicle being left-hand drive due to it being an import and the prospect of conveying the Principal around Knightsbridge leaves you with a very real problem even before the protection operation even begins.

So where does this leave the future with the prospect of electric vehicles and the provision of Protective Security?

At this early stage, and considering the aforementioned factors, one can only surmise that the advent of such will in fact, certainly within the immediate passing of legislation, that electric vehicles will be detrimental to the provision of security.  At present, ‘eco-laws’ prohibit the engine running in an idling state within the UK.  The use of vehicles within both CP and SV operations are major tools both in the secure transportation of the Principals and their teams but also the static positioning of the latter.  They provide as a base to conduct an overwatch, foot deployment, counter surveillance and surveillance and to be in position ready for any immediate move.  Yet, when laws prohibit the engine to idle when static, the knock-on effects to the fluidity and effectiveness at the time are many.  When the engine is not running, then all electrical items of equipment are being powered by the vehicle battery that is not being concurrently charged. The air-conditioning cannot be on for any extended period of time and in cold weather the windows will then mist up obscuring observations and forming an overt presence to others. The vehicle will not be in an immediate state of being able to react to any requirement. The engine will be cold and when required to move, will not be at its optimum efficiency. The comfort of those within is affected, magnified in cold weather.  From one simple law, the knock-on effects are many, the annoyance factor huge and operational effectiveness hindered.

Of course, the above factors become prevalent as a default setting for any electric vehicle. However, in addition there remain other factors in play, those that are administrative and those intrinsic to the differing requirements of operations for both low and high-risk environments.  Much ado with these requirements is as yet untested insofar as the manoeuvrability and use of transmission from forward gears to reverse and vice versa under harsh acceleration in addition to the additional weight on armoured electric vehicles and the subsequent effect on the range and it will be interesting in years to come, especially in 2030 in the United Kingdom, or indeed, much before, when the manufacture (and import) of petrol driven vehicles becomes banned and the chosen vehicles for the Royal Family, PM and other Ministers are concerned.  Will they have special dispensation?  I would certainly believe the Royal Family would during special occasions when the horse and carriage are not used.

It has to be said that presently, the use of electric vehicles for CP and SV are simply not of any benefit but cause an additional headache more so in terms of a comparatively reduced range and a far reduced number of options to charge and the time taken to charge.  As far as 2030 arriving, one would envisage that although the sale of petrol vehicles would discontinue their use for those that already have them would continue and right now, for both CP and SV this is the preferred option. 

That said, I will be looking forward to pushing a Tesla to the max around a disused airfield one day…

Richard Aitch
Director of Operations
Mobius International UK Ltd &
Mobius International Ltd

Mobius International UK Ltd Close Protection Operators/ Bodyguards are all former specialist government protection unit having served as Personal Protection Officers to the British Royal Family, UK Prime Minister and other ministers, British Ambassadors and Senior Military Command Staff together with the provision of protection to specific persons of a targeted threat.  In effect, we have re-written the commercial/ private sector approach by the delivery of the highest standards in Close Protection. By solely using former government CP trained operators, our level of service is unsurpassed.

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Mobius International UK Ltd

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