Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) leadership and GM Defense officials gathered at Summit Point Raceway in Summit Point, W. Va., June 29, 2023, for briefings and demonstrations of a prototype of the new first-of-its-kind, purpose-built Heavy-Duty armored Sports Utility Vehicle (HD SUV).
The demonstration of the prototype and the delivery of the first article test vehicle to DSS in Springfield, Va., the following day marked the completion of Phase III of the contract, which the U.S. Department of State awarded to GM Defense in August 2021. The contract calls for development and validation of the next generation of Large Support Utility Commercial Vehicles for future fleet production for DSS and other federal agencies. A similar contract was awarded to Battelle Memorial Institute to develop an aftermarket armoring solution for the Ford Expedition.
The newly designed Heavy-Duty Sports Utility Vehicle has its armoring built into the original design and manufacturing process, thus diverging from current after-market tear-down and rebuilt practices. The goal is to improve build-efficiency, reduce lead-time in bringing vehicles into service, and provide higher quality performance. Additional long-term value is expected through a five-year-50,000-mile manufacturer’s warranty and extended vehicle lifespan as compared to the current two-year 2,000-mile warranty typical of the multi-stage aftermarket armoring process.
Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Gentry Smith led a team of DSS officials for the half-day of briefings and demonstrations of a prototype of the newly designed HD SUV. Drivers took the DSS officials on test runs, demonstrating the vehicle’s maneuverability during high-speed turns, and controlled skids produced by sudden braking.
“The prototype vehicle had good acceleration, handled better in the turns and the heavy-duty anti-lock braking system was far superior to our aftermarket vehicles. You could really feel the stability and performance in the redesigned chassis,” said Assistant Secretary Smith. “The HD SUV represents a new cost-effective era in the design and building of these badly needed vehicles to help us carry out our mission to ensure the safe and secure conduct of foreign policy in some of our most challenging and dangerous posts.”
“We are pleased with the development of the fully integrated, purpose-built HD SUV in our partnership with our U.S. Department of State customers,” said President of GM Defense Stephen duMont. “The Chevrolet Suburban has been an iconic name in commercial transportation since 1935 and our newly created HD SUV will expand on that legacy to deliver government-specific advanced mobility solutions to meet the needs of DSS and other federal agencies.”
Following the DSS Ride and Drive, GM Defense hosted more than 50 participants representing 13 interagency partners for their own Ride and Drive session. Pending validation of all testing protocols, the State Department is expected to award a multi-year indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract by September 2023. All U.S. government agencies will procure their armored HD SUVs through the department’s contract with GM Defense. GM Defense expects full production of the armored HD SUV to begin in June 2024.
The contract calls for the building of 10 vehicles for government evaluation and testing. The testing process will subject one of the vehicles to third-party independent survivability testing, composed of small arms, and blasts to confirm that the developed vehicles meet Overseas Security Policy Board (OSPB) standards. The remaining development vehicles will be subject to end user and automotive durability testing designed to confirm that GM Defense can meet its commitment to supply the federal government with HD SUVs with an extended production range of eight-10 years.
“I am impressed with the technology used in the planning process to produce these vehicles, and thanks to the partnership, DSS engineers worked hand-in-hand with the GM Defense design team to bring these vehicles to fruition,” said Assistant Secretary Smith. “The design and production of the new HD SUVs will not only be cost-effective for the State Department, but the vehicles will also help provide safe transportation for our personnel in potentially dangerous situations.”
The newly designed HD SUVs are important for DSS, because GM ceased production of Suburban HD chassis in August 2018. The HD chassis was the only one capable of holding the additional armoring weight, which left the federal government without another suitable large SUV chassis as a replacement for its users.
To address this need, DSS, in collaboration with its interagency partners released a solicitation for armored vehicle design and prototype to test armored GM Defense HD SUVs and Ford Expeditions. The resultant contracts awarded HD SUVs to GM Defense and Expeditions to Battelle, which has an agreement with Ford.
In the past, DSS had fulfilled its Suburban armored vehicle requirement through small third party up-armoring vendors. The up-armoring process involved disassembling a new vehicle, welding in armored panels, installing ballistic glass and then reassembling the vehicle. These heavily modified vehicles never performed the same as an original model. They were less maneuverable, maintenance was difficult, and systems that were designed for standard vehicles did not wear well with the additional weight in the harsh austere environments where U.S. diplomats serve. This mechanism also created a lengthy procurement timeline and was not adaptable to growing global threats.
In developing the new contract, DSS performed extensive market research, including an open White Paper Invitation/Request for Information issued publicly to all of industry including major vehicle manufacturers as well as armoring up-fitters. The solicitation was issued competitively; the services awarded are of a commercial type common to original equipment manufacturers; and the government determined pricing for this contract to be fair and reasonable.