Asian SOF looks for Protected Mobility

Afghan special operations commandos of the 6th Cobra Strike Kandak were the first of seven planned CSK units to get a new level of mobility and firepower during 2018. The units use heavily armoured and mine-resistant MSFVs. (DVIDS)

SOF vehicles can be light and quick, but for some operators there is also a proved need for greater protection for the operators.

In April, senior Special Operations Forces (SOF) delegations from across the Asia-Pacific (ASPAC) region met in Honolulu, Hawaii to share lessons learned from the contemporary operating environment (COE).

Organised by the US Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC), the Pacific Area Special Operations Conference (PASOC) provided SOF leadership from across the region with the opportunity to discuss a range of concepts of operation, tactics, techniques and procedures relating to counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and maritime security missions in particular.

Speaking at the event, delegates (who must remain anonymous due to operational security concerns) discussed requirement for event greater ‘Rapid Reaction’ capabilities, particularly during operations across the austere topography of extensive waterways and island chains.

Critical to supporting such rapid reaction missions is Special Operations Vehicle (SOV) technology which, as delegates explained at the PASOC, must be capable of conducting a wide range of ground, airborne and amphibious operations.

Addressing delegates at the event, senior special operations officers from Armed Forces of the Philippines Special Operations Command described how SOF components had innovatively used non-traditional SOVs such as the M111 armoured personnel carrier to fulfil a number of more specialised roles beyond protected troop transport during the Battle of Marawi in 2017.

According to officials, M111s were driven up ramps to the first and second floors of shelled-out buildings to provide overwatch across the battlefield with the vehicle’s ISTAR mission suite. Additional uses saw the same vehicles forward-mounted close to enemy lines, fitted with loud hailers to ‘negotiate’ with insurgent forces.

Despite such innovation, SOF commanders across ASPAC continue to demand a mix of protected mobility and lighter weight, lesser protected and more agile SOVs to support the full spectrum of special operations across the region.


Speaking to Asian Military Review, vice president at Polaris Government and Defense, Jed Leonard, described how the “expeditionary nature of special operations forces and their missions are well supported by the transportability, mobility and overall capability” of SOV technology, including the company’s own inventory of DAGOR, MRZR and MV 850 tactical ground vehicles, many of which are already operational with SOF customers across ASPAC.

“As their missions expand, special operations vehicles flex to integrate different payload packages, integrated communications and weapon systems,” he explained.

Referring to increased levels in cooperation between one of Polaris’s main government customers, the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), and Polaris-equipped SOF partner forces across Asia-Pacific including Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, Leonard went onto describe: “The vehicle trends are similar to those in the US because so many military efforts are joint and coalition-based between the US and its allies.

“The same thing goes for training and exercises. We see that when our vehicles are demonstrated or trialled, their capabilities speak for themselves; operators quickly see how a mission can move from 3mph to 60mph. And the increased amount of tactical options the vehicles afford to a team. The need for special operations vehicles is increasing and we’re ready to continue supporting special operators.

“Our vehicles continually evolve to meet the needs of special operators who aren’t a shy group when it comes to feedback and we value their input greatly. Right now, that means we’re offering and continuing to develop vehicles with greater technology, communication and weapons integration, extended range, greater driveline options, autonomous and semi-autonomous solutions, increased payload and light-weighting of the platforms overall,” Leonard concluded.

Protected Mobility 

In terms of protected mobility, particularly relevant to counter-terrorism (CT) and counter-insurgency (COIN) operations in urban environments, multiple state actors across ASPAC are driving requirements for SOV technology similar to Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles in capability.

Examples include the Afghan National Army Special Operations Corps (ANASOC) which in October 2018, announced a total of five Cobra Strike Kandaks or battalions were now operational across the whole of the South-Central Asian country.

The news followed a $333 million contract award to Textron Systems a year earlier, to provide up to 255 Mobile Strike Force Vehicles (MSFV) to the ANASOC to support CT and COIN operations including direct action missions.

Based on Textron’s Commando Select vehicle, the MSFV is available in multiple configurations with options for the integration of the Objective Gunner’s Protective Kit featuring 40mm automatic grenade launcher; or 12.7mm heavy machine gun to provide an organic fire support capability to ground force elements as well as protected mobility for insertion and extraction across urban areas.

Delivery of the total inventory of MSFVs to ANASOC is due to run through to 2024, a company spokesperson for Textron confirmed to AMR. The 4×4 Commando Select has a top speed of 62mph (100km/h) at maximum ranges out to 400 miles (644km), it was added.

Similar CONOPs are being explored in Indonesia with Thales and PT Pindad’s design of the Sanca MRAP. As defence sources explained to AMR, a total of 30 vehicles could eventually support the Indonesian Armed Forces’ (TNI) army special operations command, KOPASSUS.

Thales and PT Pindad first unveiled a technology demonstrator of the 4×4 Sanca at the Indo-Defence Exhibition in Jakarta in 2016. However, as AMR went to press, no contract award had yet been announced by the TNI for the Sanca which is based on the design of the Thales Australia Bushmaster MRAP (already in service with NATO and Non NATO Entity SOF customers in Europe and Asia Pacific).

Similarly, SOF components from Japan’s Ground Self Defence Force (JGSDF) are already benefiting from the procurement of Thales Australia’s 4×4 Bushmaster MRAP following multiple contract awards over the course of 2018.

According to Japan’s 2017 Defence Plan, JGSDF must be capable of countering attacks by enemy guerrilla forces as well as SOF units, with Bushmaster vehicles providing a protected mobility solution for the JGSDF’s Special Operations Group (SOG) which can be tasked with internal security missions as well as limited special operations abroad.

A Thales Bushmaster protected mobility vehicle from the 8th/12th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery during Exercise Koolendong in 2019. Indonesia’s PT Pindad has been working with Thales on its 4×4 Sanca version which might be supplied to the TNI. (Australian DoD)

Light Mobility

Despite ongoing demand for protected mobility platforms to support fire support and insertion and extraction of small unit teams in densely populated areas of Asia-Pacific, SOF units around the region also seek lighter weight platforms to support requirements for enhanced mobility and agility across and over the battlefield.

As an example, Japanese SOF remain regular operators of Polaris MRZR-4 SOVs, which are owned and shared by US SOF components in Okinawa to support ‘fly and drive’ operations as an internally transportable vehicle in the cargo holds of CH-47 helicopters and V-22 Osprey tilt-rotors, defence sources informed AMR. 

Although not directly owned by Japan, the SOG regularly trains with US SOF partners including the US Air Force’s 320th Special Tactics Squadron at Kadena Air Base in Japan. This provides access to some unique capabilities of US SOF and provides an interoperable capability for the SOG with the Japanese government currently in the process of procuring its own inventory of V-22B Block C variants from Bell-Boeing.

In Malaysia, the Ministry of Defence remains in the process of selecting an SOV to support army SOF components including Grup Gerak Khas (GGK). In August 2018, the MoD launched a competition to consider a variety of tactical ground vehicles with an initial evaluation programme understood to have been completed at the start of 2019, industry sources indicated to AMR. 

Competition participants are understood to include Cendana Auto’s Rapid Intervention Deployment Vehicle; Kembara Suci’s SOV; Weststar’s GK-M1 SOV; and Nimr Automotive’s Rapid Intervention Vehicle (RIV) in association with DefTech. The MoD is seeking a 4×4 SOV capable of supporting the full spectrum of ground and airborne special operations.  

Selected vehicles will replace and augmented a variety of SOVs currently in operation with Malaysian SOF including Mercedes G-Wagens and “Lipan Bara” 4×4 high-mobility armoured vehicles (HMAVs).

Kembara Suci’s SOV totals 3,200kg (7,054lb)in gross vehicle weight (GVW), providing a five-strong small unit team with a total of 1,500kg (3,306lb)payload. Cendana’s Rapid Intervention Deployment Vehicle measures just 1,900kg (4,188lb) although it retains the capacity to carry a six-strong crew; while Weststar’s GK-M1 SOV has a 3,300kg (7275lb) GVW and total payload capacity of 760kg (1675lb) for a crew of four.

Finally, Nimr’s RIV has a GVW of 4,000kg (8818lb) and maximum payload of 1,500kg (3306lb), with the ability to project a maximum crew of four out to a maximum cruising range of 1,000km at 74mph (120km/h), a company spokesperson confirmed to AMR.

In Indonesia, KOPASSUS is operating P6 ATAV (All Terrain Assault Vehicles) following delivery to force components over the course of 2017 and 2018 by SSE Defence.

First displayed at the Indo-Defence Exhibition in November 2016, P6 ATAVs are being used to support internal security operations targeting violent extremist organisations including Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD). SOVs, which have a 142hp turbo diesel engine, is used for the rapid insertion and extraction of small unit teams as well as organic fire support capability with the addition of light or medium machine guns.

Finally in New Zealand, the government is seeking to purchase a series of ‘utility light’ vehicles as part of an effort to support the “improved mobility, safety and versatility to rapidly deployable mobile forces”, according to a statement by defence minister Ron Mark on 3rd July.

A total of $11.7 million (NZ$18.6 million) has been set aside to procure utility light vehicles which could include an undisclosed number of MRZR variants from Polaris Government and Defense. However, Mark was unable to confirm how many SOVs would be made available to New Zealand Defence Force SOF components.

Polaris’s 4×4 MRZR-4, now available in a diesel variant (MRZR-D4), can carry a total of up to six operators with a maximum curb weight of 879kg (1,732lb) and payload capacity of 680kg (1,500lb). Smaller MRZR-2/MRZR-D2 variants have a curb weight of 737kg (1,625lb) and payload capacity of 453kg (960lb), company literature explained.

MRZR’s are liked because they can be inserted quickly for SOF to use. Here, a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III drops new MRZR-4 ATV’s onto the drop zone in Torun, Poland, as part of Exercise Anakonda in 2016. (DVIDS)

The news follows the acceptance into service of Supacat’s Special Operations Vehicle-Mobility Heavy (SOV-MH) vehicle in January 2018, which provides operators with the flexibility to reconfigure the vehicle from a 4×4 platform into a 6×6 variant with extended wheelbase.

As defence sources associated with New Zealand SOF explained to AMR, such a capability

provides increased levels in mission flexibility for small unit teams seeking to carry additional layers of specialist equipment or supplies.

The SOV-MH, which is a variant of the HMT Extenda, has a GVW of 7,600kg (16,755lb) and 10,500kg (23,148lb) in 4×4 and 6×6 configurations with payload capacities measuring 2,100kg (4,630lb) and 3,900kg (8,600lb) respectively. Platforms have been designed to carry a variety of support weapons including automatic grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and remote weapon stations, as well as C4ISTAR mission suites and other specialist equipment dependent upon mission requirements.


According to Polaris’s Leonard, demand for SOVs will continue to drive designs and development in the short to medium term as SOF units seeking flexible and modular solutions to support an increasing range of mission sets across arduous terrain.

As he explained to AMR: We’re developing future platforms right now and it’s critical for us to maintain the simplicity and flexibility of the base platforms so they can be maximised in the field.

“As Polaris ultralight vehicles are relied on more and more for operational effectiveness, we’re advancing the platforms with greater range, multiple drivetrains and more exportable power to take advantage of the latest sensors, systems and technology,” he concluded.

As the COE continues to demand an increasing spread of mission sets from ASPAC’s SOF community, commanders will require a mixed inventory of protected mobility and all terrain SOVs capable of inserting, protecting, supporting and extracting small unit teams across diverse and austere environments.

by Andrew White