„Shall we put the bomb under the cars?“ – „No, we’ll put it on the table first“. The conversation between the two men in an office built from containers in a factory hall might irritate bystanders. But it is not an attack that is being planned here, but training for drivers of armored vehicles. The participants drive important and worth protecting people all over the world. Here at ASC International, the vehicles for Karzai and Nelson Mandela were also built. „But the cars are not bulletproof,“ explains owner Fidelis Cloer, who has been designing, building and selling armored vehicles for 30 years. „Anyone who calls his vehicle that has no idea. The vehicles have certain physical properties. They can absorb a certain amount of energy on certain parts. That keeps certain projectiles, bombs, fragments and so on out. But there is never a hundred percent safety. Only then would the vehicle be bulletproof.'“
The vehicles are stacked in the production hall. Almost all of them are 200-series Toyota Land Cruisers. The most built armored vehicle in the world. The basic vehicle is so strong that it can withstand 6.5 tons of total weight, it is very common and can be driven all over the world without attracting too much attention. The vehicles that leave this production are driven by heads of state, kings and rich private customers. They cost up to €250,000 each without delivery. Cheap suppliers offer supposedly equivalent vehicles for €100,000, but these have a number of security loopholes. The customer must inform the manufacturer of the standards and specifications to which the vehicle must be manufactured. Why this is complicated, however, is explained in detail in this article.
The training offered by ASC is explicitly aimed at customers of other manufacturers as well. The five-day course is designed to teach how to move an armored vehicle safely in various situations, why physical fitness is important for drivers and how to handle rudimentary medical emergencies in crisis areas. In doing so, the training is also designed to lay the groundwork for further training of one’s own in the field. People drive unarmored, poorly armored and well-armored vehicles with right- and left-hand drive. Customers include embassies, international governmental and non-governmental organizations and a few private individuals. Many have years of experience, others are new to the job. An important aspect of the training is also the exchange among the participants: Who has experienced what where, what problems do you have in practice that you don’t think about in theory.
For example, one participant reports that one of his passengers also wants to ride in the armored vehicle with the window open because he doesn’t like the air from the air conditioning. In a war zone. When told that this was unsafe and against the idea of an armored vehicle, the passenger replied that what good is armor then if it doesn’t protect you at all.
Driving these vehicles continues to be a male domain. There are more and more women in the field, especially in Western nations – but there are still not many. No women are taking part in this training either, but there is a female instructor for some sections.
In this training Leo Prinsloo was one of the participants. He became an Internet star a few months ago, as a video was shared in which he drove a cash-in-transit van in Pretoria that was about to be attacked by several assailants with three vehicles. For several minutes, he maneuvered the van around the attackers, turning around on the highway to escape them and ending up getting stuck. The video ends with a scene in which he grabs his assault rifle and gets out, again chasing the attackers. In the process, he drove a ’70-series Land Cruiser with an attached armored cargo area. The vehicles are known for their poor handling, making his ride even more impressive.
Leo had a problem when entering Dubai, where the training is taking place: he still had a cartridge case in his luggage, which attracted the attention of security. He stated that he worked in the area and that it must have been left behind from a previous training session. When asked if he could substantiate this, he was able to respond in a relaxed manner with, „Do you have YouTube?“ His video now has around 50 million views.
Leo is a very calm, relaxed and responsible person. Always polite, attentive, friendly. Someone you like to spend time with, who never puts himself in the foreground. Even in the video he seems calm, although several projectiles hit his vehicle. For almost twenty years he was a police officer, for a long time in the Special Task Force (STF), the South African equivalent of the GSG 9, and at the end of his service he was also a trainer. The attackers in his video had simply chosen the wrong target. Even when training, he never pushes himself to the fore, but always has good tips from the field if you ask him. And he never loses his sense of humor, no matter how hot or exhausting it is.
Dubai is ideally suited as a training location. It is easier for the company to produce here due to the legal framework. For the participants of the training it is easy to enter Dubai. Especially the entry from many African countries can be difficult in the EU, but not in Dubai. Last but not least, the training facility and climate is similar to what most people see in their daily lives: Sand and sun. With up to 50 degrees and light winds, you are slowly breaded by sweat and sand.
The training is divided into several parts: Theory, First Aid, Fitness, Vehicles, Driving, Accidents and Scenarios. The first part explains what we are actually talking about. What is an armored vehicle? What is this training about? Then, an experienced rescue worker will explain what his everyday life is like in special forces, what injuries occur in practice during ambushes on such convoys, and how to provide emergency care until hospital care is possible. In addition to gunshot wounds and the like, the course also covers the recognition of heart attacks or strokes. According to the cliché, ambassadors are not always the most athletic people and the danger of a heart attack seems greater than that of a targeted attack.
This brings us to the topic of fitness: How do you move a 120 kg person when you weigh 75 kg yourself? Can you jog through the desert in blazing heat? Can you get up a hill after rolling down it? At 47 degrees celsius the participants have to run laps with a stretcher and a dummy, one by one up and down hills and answer complicated questions. For many, this is where they realize how much they’ve let their physical fitness and casualty care knowledge slide. „It’s like a stewardess. She doesn’t do a year of training to give you a Coke either! Imagine if she said ‚I don’t know what we do in a water landing either – it happens so rarely.‘ You’re a driver of an armored vehicle. You have to be fit. If you think nothing will happen anyway, you can drive a cab,“ Fidelis Cloer explains to the sweating participants.
As explained at the beginning, there are extreme differences in armored vehicles. To address just one problem: If you shoot through the headlight, you can puncture the battery and the fuse box. The splinters of the projectile then fly on to the partition between the engine compartment and the passenger compartment. There, splinters of the projectile can fly through the hole that the steering column needs, they can penetrate the dashboard and catch the driver’s legs. He does not die immediately, but he bleeds and is in pain. This is exactly what happened regularly with inexpensive vehicles. So the expensive ones have more armored panels in the engine compartment to prevent such a thing. There are dozens of such examples. Therefore, it is easy to make a vehicle 90% safe, but very complicated to make it 99% safe.
Manufacturers such as Stoof have also had to repeat certification because a seat was not mounted in the correct position during certification. This attracted attention. In such cases, most customers end up not caring why they did it or whether they passed the certification afterwards or not. The trust has been squandered. Many customers don’t want to trust their lives to someone like that. Other manufacturers don’t even certify their vehicles and simply refer to the material tests of the installed metals and types of glass. However, many customers do not understand the difference, because it is complicated in detail. I have explained this in this article.
While the differences between the various vehicles are explained during training, some participants get wide-eyed: „That’s exactly what our door looks like – so a bullet can get through there? So the car isn’t bulletproof at all?“ asks one participant. „No car is bulletproof. Remember that!“ – Fidelis Chloer repeats herself.
While everyone is waiting for the spectacular scenario scenes they have seen in the videos of previous training sessions, the first drives look unspectacular from the outside. Vehicles drive slowly around pylons. Almost as if in slow motion. But for the drivers, it’s hard work. The task is to drive the precision driving parkour of the U.S. police in less than four minutes. This involves a series of simple skill exercises such as turning, parking and driving a slalom. In the first attempts, participants take 15 minutes to drive it flawlessly. Later, they get down to five minutes. A little further on is a relatively long slalom parkour, which can easily be driven a little faster. But the point is to blindfold the driver and steer him only by the commands of the co-driver – forward and backward. This is necessary when the driver can no longer see anything due to a smeared windshield or injuries.
The next part is drifting. This part is led by the racing driver and drift instructor „Nacho“, who otherwise looks after his racing team in Abu Dhabi. An appropriately prepared vehicle is deliberately made to drift and then caught again. Advanced drivers drift several laps around an obstacle before driving the vehicle straight. Since the armored Land Cruisers weigh around six tons, they can quickly skid if a rear tire blows out. This happens especially often when original tires were used and not ones designed for the increased load capacity.
It is precisely these burst tires that can lead to serious accidents in which the vehicle rolls over or leaves the road. That’s why rollovers and safe egress are practiced in the simulator. Over and over again. Later also with practice hand grenades and smoke bombs in the vehicle.
In practice, it can also happen that all doors can no longer be opened after an explosion. Therefore, the ripping out of windows and doors is practiced. This must be done in one minute from the accident. So run to your own car, overtake the crashed vehicle, drill through the almost 4cm thick armored window with a special drill, stick a lance with barbs in it, connect it to your own vehicle and tear out the window. This causes damage of more than 10,000€ to the vehicle, which is why very few providers include such training sessions in their program.
Only after all these tasks have been completed do you move on to the spectacular part: the scenarios.
Scenario training with armored vehicles
The scenarios are about applying everything you have learned in combination. The scenario in this case is: A VIP in an unarmored red Mercedes is protected by two armored Land Cruisers. This may sound unrealistic, but it comes from a real robbery. „Terrorists“ attack the Mercedes, smash the windows, throw training hand grenades and smoke bombs. In the process, the VIP is injured and the vehicle can no longer drive under its own power. For everyone else involved, that’s when the real work begins:
The team leader must give the instructions by radio: „Push the vehicle out of the danger zone. What does it look like in the vehicle?“ The co-driver of the VIP vehicle must climb to the back, search the injured VIP for injuries and report them. As soon as the situation allows, everyone must be transferred from the damaged vehicle to another vehicle, the injuries must be treated first, and everyone must get to safety together. In theory, the procedure is clear and simple. In practice, however, it turns out, for example, that one injured person and three others have to get into the back seat of a Land Cruiser. So one or two people have to quickly jump over the seat into the trunk. Under time pressure and with headrests in the highest position, this part alone is a problem.
The scenario only lasts a few minutes and there are a lot of small problems and mistakes in the process. These have to be analyzed in elaborate debriefings. Photos and videos of the scene also help. Each participant explains his view of the sequence of events, it is compared with reality: What did one not perceive at all, where did one do something wrong? During one of the debriefings, an armored Land Cruiser overturned a few meters away, just as it was about to drive over an obstacle at a 40-degree angle. The occupants had practiced it often enough in the simulator, the bystander instructors helped them out, no problem.
Is it worth it?
The training days are long and exhausting. Up to 13 hours with 30-minute breaks, up to 50 degrees celsius, a lot of exercise, a lot of drinking and a lot of new knowledge – as seen in this video. You quickly notice which participants push themselves further and further to the limit and which prefer to look for the nearest air conditioner, and you learn well where your own limits are. I often go to war and crisis zones myself, I drive armored vehicles there myself, so I always take part in these trainings. Considering the workload, the extreme physical and intellectual challenge, I’m glad I don’t do it more often.