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By Scott R. Gourley

United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) elements have long embraced the utility and flexibility of All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) mobility platforms to facilitate special segments of their unique mission capabilities. From the mountains of Afghanistan to the deserts of Iraq, ATV platforms from companies like Polaris Industries and John Deere have seen expanded application in the ongoing war against terrorism. The use of these modified commercial systems reflects a global phenomenon toward applying commercial off the shelf (COTS) technologies to satisfy some military requirements.

Most recently, selected USSOCOM elements have been experimenting with a brand new entry into the ATV arena. Called “Prowler,” the new system is being directed toward a specialized vehicle niche that its developers designate as the Rugged Terrain Vehicle (RTV).

According to Amos Deacon, CEO of All Terrain Vehicle Corporation as well as CEO of its parent, Phoenix International, “The generic ATV has been proven very useful in many areas of mission operation and support. But extending its tactical potential faces severe limitations regarding operator safety, vehicle reliability, rugged endurance and operator control.”

“To overcome the limitations imposed by the ‘operator active’ technology of a generic ATV – where the operator must straddle the vehicle, use both hands to control braking and throttle, use handlebars to steer and his body to maintain balance — ATV Corporation has built the ‘Prowler.’ The Prowler uses ‘operator passive’ technology. The Prowler can be operated with one hand and drives like a car,” he said.

Focusing on the “ATV” versus “RTV” discriminators, Deacon compared the Prowler to a popular COTS ATV that has been used extensively by U.S. special operators.

“The Prowler has a smaller dimensional envelope, smaller turning radius, is much more stable (its CG is almost a foot and a half lower), handles more payload, is faster, and has more ground clearance,” he said.

The potentials inherent in an RTV concept are not lost on U.S. special operations planners. For example, early testing of “Prowler” included evaluations by Company A, 3 rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) from February through April 2003. Operating across a variety of terrain conditions in Colombia, South America, American Special Forces evaluators ran the Prowler at distances of 50 – 200 miles per day and speeds up to 45 miles per hour. Unclassified test reports note that the intent of “test[ing] the handling characteristics, utility, and maintenance issues of this ATV in the South American Area of Operations.

“Strengths highlighted by the Special Forces testing included dependability, speed/power., and agility. In terms of power, for example, the report noted that “The 700 cc engine is potent and durable. The ATV carried up to 900 pounds across rough terrain. Altitude varied from 3000 to 8000 feet with no noticeable loss of power, and no required carburetor adjustments.”

In subsequent testing conducted at the Mercury Test Site in Nevada, members of the Group Support Company, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) conducted an operational assessment of four Prowler RTVs.

Noting that, “The test yielded data relevant to operating the equipment in an austere environment while performing tactical maneuvers common to 7th SFG (A) Area of Responsibility,” the test report states that “During the assessment operators were instructed to field test the equipment on a challenging course in order to provide accurate data the ATVs durability and capabilities under extremely harsh conditions and maneuvers. The course was constructed so as to provide the worse possible conditions in which an ATV might be placed in, these conditions included, but were not limited to; rock and boulder obstacles, 45-75 % grades, high-speed cornering, etc.”

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