Last month, we introduced you to some of the unique and diversely capable Special Forces Motorcycles used by the US military. But those aren’t the only rugged off-road tactical vehicles used in combat by our soldiers overseas. The small size, speed, and maneuverability of the ATV actually makes it the main choice of personal mobility platforms for our warfighters, so this month we’re giving you an inside look at Military/Tactical ATVs!
Using a Honda ATV to get a marksman into position. Possibly SF, possibly contractors…definitely badass.
US Military ATVs
Like motorcycles, ATVs would make a poor choice for conventional units because they offer no protection to the individual soldier. But their ability to traverse rugged terrain and speed make them ideally suited to special operations like recon and SAR missions, and units like the Army’s Delta Force, Navy SEALs, and USMC’s MARSOC have made extensive use of them in Afghanistan.
A MARSOC Marine pitching it sideways at an ATV training course (Photo cred: CPl. R. Blumenstein.)
The US military currently has thousands of ATVs in use, most of which are COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) solutions, meaning the military orders standard civilian ATVs that have been modified to meet military specifications. These include things like tow hitches for trailers, engines that run on multiple fuels (like diesel or JP8 aviation fuel), exhaust silencers, and blackout/infrared lighting. Models used in recent years include modified versions of the Kawasaki Mule, Honda Rancher and Foreman, Yamaha Rhino, diesel-powered Arctic Cats, and a growing number of Polaris models.
US Army soldier on a militarized Honda Foreman ATV.
Polaris Military ATVs and UTVs
Polaris is currently the biggest supplier of ATVs and a growing number of UTVs to the special operations community; 2013 saw both a 5-year contract with SOCOM for MRZR2 and MRZR4 side-by-sides and a separate 5-year contract to deliver MV850 single-rider ATVs. Even with these contracts in place, demand for Polaris’ vehicles by the DOD is declining due to the drawdown of US forces, but this is a minor concern for Polaris as they also recently won a large contract to supply the German military with their mil-spec off-road vehicles, joining a list of customers that includes Israel, Canada, Norway, and Singapore.
The Polaris MRZR2 and MRZR4, the military’s side-by-sides, used during a combat training exercise.
Haulin’ ass through the desert. These guys get paid to do this. Hooah!
The MV850 is the bread-and-butter of Polaris’ military contract, built to spec with a powerful 850cc V-twin, 600 lb. capacity rack, active descent control, and both blackout and IR lighting functions. The MV850 is also equipped with innovative new non-pneumatic tires (NPTs) acquired from startup Resilient Technologies, made of a flexible polymer honeycomb which can run even when shot to bits by .50 machine gun rounds! This innovative product was also recently introduced to the civilian market by Polaris, as OEM equipment on their Sportsman WV850 HO model.
Slogging through the mud on a Polaris with nearly indestructible NPTs from Resilient Technologies.
Civilian versions of military technology is a beautiful thing: the Polaris WV850 HO with NPTs.
Purpose-built UTV: Phoenix International’s Prowler
While the majority of UTVs in use by the military are COTS solutions, one especially awesome, purpose-built machine called the Prowler, manufactured by military contractor Phoenix International. Introduced in 2002, this is the only UTV used by the military that was designed with input directly from special operations testing groups, resulting in a side-by-side with a low center of gravity, double-wishbone suspension all around, and a blistering top speed of up to 70mph!
Purpose-built: the Phoenix International Prowler catching some air.
Military Special Forces aren’t the only tactical units that utilize ATVs; the US Border Patrol actually operates the largest non-military fleet of ATVs in the world, and uses them routinely on patrol in the rugged borderland. Border Patrol’s fleet consists of Yamaha Raptors, Warriors, and Kodiak 450s. Some of the ATVs are even modified ones confiscated from captured drug runners, who also make use of the versatile ATVs to escape across the border a if they’re lucky!
Border Patrol agents patrolling along the fenceline on Yamaha ATVs.
Not all Border Patrol agents get to ride these fast Yamaha Raptors…but they make for a killer photo op.
The Future of Military ATVs/UTVS
From distant war zones to our own southern border and beyond, it’s clear that ATVs/UTVs have a role in getting warfighters and law enforcement officers through rough terrain fast, all while hauling heavy gear, ammo, and even passengers. While the bulk of the military is drawing down and curtailing its spending, its clear that these vehicles are going to stick around, as evidenced by Polaris’ recent multi-million dollar defense contracts. The best part of all this are the developments that make it from the battlefield to civilian models, like the awesome non-pneumatic tires on the Polaris Sportsman WV850. Look for more innovations like that in the future!
Shop for parts for your own ATV HERE at BikeBandit!