Protecting the principal
On the face of it, a convoy of luxury cars may seem nothing but a statement of outrageous wealth and poor taste. To some extent that may be true – the sheer number of dictators and state leaders who have chosen to ride in stretched Mercedes limousines in the past is enormous (from Adolf Hitler to Pol Pot to Saddam Hussein…)
However there is also a very long list of perfectly sensible reasons why international VIPs rely on multiple saloon cars and 4×4 escorts to travel in safety. Some of the main factors which must be considered when creating a secure VIP convoy are discussed below.
The reliability of the base vehicle is the first factor. Mercedes-Benz produced what was arguably the first motor car ever made in 1886 and since then has built up a record of near rock-solid performance. Thus is demonstrated by the humble city taxi – if you have ever ridden in the back of a European cab it was likely to be a high-mileage but ever-functioning C or E Class model. The luxury S Class range-topper is renowned for its smooth ride and advanced safety systems. Similarly, Toyota Land Cruisers and sister-brand Lexus LS sedans are also the vehicles of choice for many VIP convoys due to their reputation for go-anywhere dependability – even before specialist modifications are made.
The second step in creating any discerning defence convoy worth its weight in metal is armour-protecting the entire vehicle or fleet. Mercedes-Benz has long offered its own in-house armouring service, under the moniker S-Class Guard. This adds high-strength steel which is integrated during the car’s construction and protects against ballistics to NATO B6/B7; bulletproof glass, heavy-duty run-flat tyres able to perform evasive manoeuvres up to 50mph even when deflated, independent cabin oxygen supply, high-tech imaging solutions which increase situational awareness of vehicle occupants and intercom systems. After these are added, the Guard gains a minimum of 500kg extra weight over the standard model, but its V12 Bi-turbo motor ensures pace is not badly affected.
Thirdly, many independent companies also offer non-lethal deterrents which have the advantage of flexibility for application on several other types of vehicle, since budget is unlikely to be an issue here. Systems available from companies such as MS Instruments include high-decibel sound emitters, bright flashes and smokescreens which detonate just seconds after jettison in order to disorientate the enemy in case of live-fire assaults.
The fourth step in convoy protection is, apart from relying on safety in numbers, the addition of a radio frequency (RF) jamming unit. SESP is a prominent company specialising in retrofitting anti-RCIED (remote control improvised explosive device) jammers. Their JAM V series of electronic protection systems can be recognised by a set of high-gain antennas mounted to the car’s roof, and tall aerials to the rear section. Jamming allows the vehicle to disrupt the radio frequencies most commonly used by terrorists to detonate road-side bombs: 66MHz – 2500MHz. The field of protection radius of the JAM-V is large due to an ultra-high RF transmission power of 1000 watts.
The final step in ensuring the safety of a VIP within a convoy situation is to surround them with highly-trained (likely ex-military) security professionals and skilled drivers capable of active resistance and able to coordinate an effective escape from potential roadblocks or assassination attempts. So all those extra cars and that added weight really serve their purpose.