Published 14 November 05
[Originally published at NavySEALs.com, 10 Nov 05]
W. Thomas Smith Jr.
UPDATE: On Nov. 10 we reported in NavySEALs.com on the development of a new armored vehicle, "The Rock," which is being manufactured by Granite Global Services in Kuwait for service in Iraq. On November 25, during an operation in the Baghdad area, one of Granite Global's armored "Rocks" was hit with an improvised explosive device (IED). The vehicle sustained no major damage, and - best of all - no injuries were suffered by passengers or crew.
Kuwait-based Navy SEAL Reservist is building armored vehicles for Iraqi combat
ON MARCH 31, 2004, terrorists and a frenzied mob in the city of Fallujah ambushed a group of American civilian contractors: dragging them from their SUVs, killing them, mutilating their bodies, hanging two men on a bridge over the Euphrates River, and chaining one to a car before dragging him through the city's streets.
It was one of the worst – most highly publicized – acts of terror in Iraq since the invasion of 2003: Tragic for all Americans; emotionally wrenching for Chris Berman, a Navy SEAL Reservist who was then-working as a contractor for Blackwater USA, the security company that also employed the four murdered contractors.
One of the victims was Scott Helvenston, a close friend of Berman and a fellow SEAL. News of Helvenston's death would change Berman's life, but in such a way that lives – unknown to Berman – might well be saved in the coming months and years.
Berman was supposed to be part of the Blackwater team that was in Fallujah on that ill-fated day. But a last minute schedule change placed him in the south of Iraq at Camp Bucca, near Umm Qasr. On the highway to Baghdad the following day, Berman received the phone call: A Blackwater detail had been hit. Four men were dead.
"I brought those four bodies home," he recalls. Berman flew with the remains to Dover (Delaware) Air Force Base. Then from Dover, "I flew Scotty home to his mom in Florida." But Berman was compelled to do something beyond burying friends. He had to figure a way to save lives in the wake of his personal loss and in the face of the new type of war.
While in Florida, Berman stopped by a Ford dealership. There he took a close look at the Ford F-550, realized the truck had the heavy-duty chassis he needed for a fully armored urban-combat vehicle. It was not to be a Humvee replacement – perhaps a replacement for soft-skinned SUVs – but surely a vehicle that – had it been in Blackwater service in the spring of 2004 – would have saved lives.
"A Humvee is a rough terrain vehicle designed to go in the dirt, and it has some other great capabilities," says Berman. "However, we're no longer in a land-grabbing front-line war. We're now in an urban warfare situation where we're spending a lot of time working in-and-around cities."
In the days following Helvenston's funeral, Berman formed Kuwait-based Granite Global Services (graniteglobalservices.com). His first truck went into production at his Kuwaiti plant in June 2004 (less than three months after the Fallujah ambush). The first deployable truck rolled off the line in June 2005.
In the current operating environment, U.S. and coalition troops – including Iraqi security forces – and civilian contractors are having to defend themselves against organized ambush teams, suicide bombers on foot, car bombs, IEDs (improvised explosive devices), snipers, and random shooters.
That's exactly the type of environment Berman's vehicles are designed to operate in. Riding around in pickup trucks or SUVs is nothing less than suicidal. And "armoring Humvees is like trying to put a band-aid on a sucking chest wound," says Berman. "The spirit of it is fantastic. The application of it is ridiculous."
Berman calls his new urban warfare vehicle, The Rock, and his clients run the gamut from private construction firms to U.S. Defense Department agencies. Talks also are ongoing with the Iraqis, and that's where the vehicle-name comes in.
Initially, Berman's truck was known as The Warthog. "As you can imagine, pigs are not popular animals with the Iraqis," says Berman. After the first three Warthogs were deployed and returned for service, the company ground off the nameplates. Currently, the trucks are branded Granite Automotive Group. But the name for this particular model will soon officially become known as The Rock. "I don't think we're going to insult any culture or religion with The Rock."
The vehicle is unlike anything on the ground in Iraq.
Built on a Ford 4X4 truck chassis with "street tires," The Rock weighs approximately 15,500 lbs. (depending on an individual vehicle's armor and armament configuration), but it's fast. "It's governed at 94 mph, but – at 15,000 pounds - we can comfortably do 80," says Berman.
The vehicle's armor is comprised of three layers: First is the outer Polyeurea coating. This is followed by the actual armor. Then there is a blanketing insulator. These three layers surround the entire vehicle – roof, sides, front, rear, and below the floorboard. "It is 100 percent armored," says Berman.
Moreover, the outer skin of the vehicle has a "bolt-on" feature that permits additional layers of armor to be attached to the existing armor. An RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) screen may also be added, similar to the screen/cage on the U.S. Army's Stryker.
The Rock can haul a four-man crew and six-to-eight passengers depending on its configuration.
And it can fight!
During an urban combat operation, two combatants would be positioned topside in two roof turrets manning belt-fed machineguns. Six windows with spring-loaded gun ports would add to The Rock's firepower. Consequently, when "this porcupine comes down the road," as Berman says, it will be bringing eight guns to bear on any bushwhackers. That fact alone serves as a deterrent.
Two such vehicles equals sixteen guns, four of which "are big belt-feeders on the roof," says Berman. "Anyone who wants to attack that is slapping at the wrong person."
So the optimum question might be, has The Rock saved lives? "I'd like to think so," says Berman. "They currently are not shooting any guns in Iraq that will penetrate our body. We also have a poly liner on it so you're really not going to see where the bullets hit. A 7.62X39, which is an AK-47 round, does not do anything against our armor but dissipate energy. If your eyes are closed you cannot feel the bullet impact of an AK-47 round against our vehicle."
The Rock is fully air-conditioned and is equipped with an on-board auxiliary generator, similar to an RV.
"Let's say you're going to be sitting someplace for eight hours," says Berman. "Instead of idling the engine in 130 degree temps to cool the guys down, you turn on the generator and make everything like a great big cooler."
Cooler indeed: With its 360-degree armor, roof-turrets, gun ports, and auxiliary power; The Rock is a mini-fortress.
Granite Global currently has 10 vehicles in service, nine in production. Berman believes he would have had more on-line, but production was initially so rapid, some of the vehicles were recalled for minor glitches. "We moved so fast that some of our R&D [research and development] took place in the field," laughs Berman.
Today with 32 employees, Granite Global is capable of producing 10 trucks per month. Other manufacturers – like stateside-based Force Protection (that produce the Buffalo and Cougar); General Dynamics (which produces the RG-31) in South Africa, and Textron Systems (which produces the Dingo-2) in Germany – are manufacturing their armored vehicles for service in Iraq and elsewhere. Yet none of those companies, according to Berman, are as closely deployed as his to the battle theater. A maintenance center is currently being built in Baghdad. And mechanical access points – Ford dealerships and those that service Ford trucks – are available globally.
At $200,000 per vehicle, The Rock is moderately priced. But Berman contends he's not out to make a lot of money. He was a professional soldier before becoming a businessman, and he entered the business world "to make a better way for guys not to die."
Berman says he's dealt with over 40 deaths in Iraq: Most of those were killed by highway mines or in ambushes, and most were doing nothing more transporting food from one site to another. It's a new phase of warfare in the 21st century, and that's what The Rock has been designed to support.
"We still have guys traveling in vehicles without proper armor," he says, "As recently as five days ago, I watched a convoy of brand new Humvees heading across the Iraqi border from Kuwait. I am not sure why they do that, they must feel it is okay to buy these and then pay somebody to armor them up north. I keep seeing kids in Baghdad driving vehicles that they have put armor on by themselves: They seem to use a lot of that ‘diamond plate' steel, the only problem is that it does not stop bullets, it is a mild steel and nothing more."
Armored vehicles are not the only products offered by Granite Global Services. Berman manufactures and ships prefabricated dwelling structures, rapid response kitchens, and various industrial supplies, all for – as he refers to – "the rapid setup of life-support systems for our troops" in the field.
As for forthcoming projects, Granite Global is currently developing a prototype for a lightweight off-road armored vehicle, similar to a Humvee, but with "much greater passenger protection," says Berman, adding that no matter the vehicle, "we are lighter, cheaper, faster" than the competition.
— W. Thomas Smith Jr., a former U.S. Marine infantry leader, parachutist, and shipboard counterterrorism instructor, writes about military/defense issues and has covered conflict in the Balkans and on the West Bank. He is an award-winning author of four books, the co-author of two, and his articles have appeared in USA Today, George, U.S. News & World Report, BusinessWeek, National Review Online, CBS News, The Washington Times, and many others.
W. Thomas Smith Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2005 W. Thomas Smith Jr.