Andy Smith
Mine action specialist
Aftermarket armouring

Conventional vehicles like the 4x4 ambulance shown below are not 'mine-protected' by design, but they still offer some protection against small devices.

For example, a PMN (240g TNT) detonation beneath the wheel of any 4x4 will not usually result in injury to an occupant – although the vehicle may go out of control and crash causing injury. Just as the thin bodywork of a conventional car can protect against a small blast, so it may stop or deflect fragmentation from small devices, or from larger devices a long way away. I do not know of any cases where an AP blast mine detonating under a wheel caused a fire, but they may have occurred. So, in general, AP blast mines are not a threat to conventional vehicles - although if they cause a crash, they can be an indirect cause of injury. The real threat to an unprotected vehicle is an AT mine, or a large improvised device. The unprotected vehicle below hit an AT blast mine. It was thrown into the air, severely damaged - and its long-range diesel tanks ruptured and burned. This was a demining ambulance. The occupants were very severely injured.

The materials involved in any blast event are relevant. The weakest point of any standard vehicle is the glass. When struck by fragments it may shatter or simply be penetrated. When struck by sufficient blast it will shatter and each bit of glass will become a sharp edged fragment moving at high speed. Drivers of conventional vehicles often want to buy something that will upgrade their machine enough to make them safe to drive in areas with a landmine threat.

Personal security companies offer a wide range of 'bullet-resistant' conversions for conventional vehicles. Some look very dubious, but others may work against conventional handguns and ordinary ammunition or against a fragmentation mine (as long as the fragment strikes are not concentrated on the glass areas).

NONE work well against significant Blast

If you look back at the design requirements for an MPV you can see why. You cannot take a conventional car and achieve those ends without replacing every part from the wheels up – including the engine which would suddenly need to be more powerful to move the heavy armour around.

Bolt on armour plates

HALO Trust used Landrovers that were protected against blast from small anti-personnel mines by heavy steel units bolted to the chassis as shown here. HALO report that this is effective.

The pictures below show what happens to HALO trust landrovers after driving onto AT mines.

The wheel on the left is the 'spare'.

This is not to say that your vehicle will look like this after hitting a tank mine. The size, depth, condition and precise orientation of the mine relative to the vehicle will have a large effect. As will LUCK. Shown below is another up-armoured HALO Landrover after hitting an AT mine.

The damage is not dissimilar to that of an entirely unprotected Toyota which parked on an AT mine (below). Both drivers survived.

From the available evidence, there is no clear advantage to using HALO’s heavy landrovers, and the case for fitting steel plates under the vehicle is unproven. Common-sense would say that any increase in armouring must be good, but this is not always true. The extra plates may trap blast forces from a large mine, and their weight may make it more likely that the vehicle will detonate the mine. The high cost of providing such incomplete protection (and the additional running costs that result) could be better applied buying a few Genuinely Mine protected Vehicles. HALO spent a long time researching this and I was assured that their latest modifications were effective - until the British army's experience using mine protected landrovers in Afghanistan made their claims just a little incredible.

Blast (ballistic) blankets

Several reputable body-armour manufacturers also offer after-market blankets to put on the floor of conventional vehicles as protection against blast. These are usually made from a ballistic aramid similar to that used in body-protection. The truth is that they are not needed when the threat is an anti-personnel blast mine. The detonation of an AP blast mine under a wheel of a 4x4 in good condition will not normally penetrate the floorpan. When the threat is an AT mine, these blankets do no good at all and may give false confidence to the victims.

Seven people died in this Toyota 4x4 fitted with top-quality ballistic/blast blankets when it hit a conventional AT mine on a road in Angola. If was being used by a medical team – with no knowledge of explosives and armour – who thought the blankets would make them safe. If you look closely you can recognise the steering wheel on the left.

Ballistic blankets fitted to vehicles as aftermarket protection do not work against large blasts. When a vehicle is only driven down a road because those inside believe they are protected, I believe that the providers of the blankets bear some responsibility for any injury or death that occurs.

Just as removing one mine from a minefield may increase the risk to the public (who now think the area is safe so they use it), so providing some protection in a vehicle is NOT always better than providing none. Generally, those who sell aftermarket vehicle armouring are not much worse than any other used car dealer. Those who issue it to their staff and then encourage them to use the vehicle on mined roads are (in my opinion) guilty of gross negligence.

Next: Real Mine Protected Vehicles (MPVs)

Return to Introducing demining.