12 October 2019

The SOF’s new platform for wheeled tactical infiltration – the electric scooter

Daniel Ilie

Some time ago, while I was sitting on a bench in a park and reading a piece about how special operations forces (SOF) from Israel and the US are testing a new “revolutionary” ground vehicle, my attention was distracted by the relatively intense traffic of electric scooters, most of them rented, on the nearby sidewalk. I took a closer look at the piece and I realized that, in fact, that ground vehicle was actually an electrical one and looked strikingly like the scooters (yes, you read that right) which were passing me by in both directions. That is when I came up with the idea to make an analogy between these electrical scooters which are driven with surprising ease by both children and adults, women or men, even in Bucharest’s terrible traffic.

Image source: Mediafax

The enthusiasm brought somewhat by the exaggerated marketing of the new platforms for wheeled electrical transports, including scooters, could not avoid the field of SOF, as these capabilities need to be a spearhead in adopting new technologies and, as much as it is possible, be themselves equipped with cutting-edge technology, if it fits the needs of a specific mission.

A tactical four-wheeled light electric vehicle, “low profile”, with a “driver” on board

The ground electric vehicle named EZ Raider, developed by an Israeli company and tested by the SOF’s of both Israel and the US, is basically a four-wheeled electric scooter, developed in both two and four-wheel-drive options. In my opinion, the vehicle’s aspects and dimensions are similar to the electric scooters we see everyday in traffic (only that it has four wheels instead of two).

According to a presentation video, this wheeled transport platform is a solution for the fast transit of military troops and their equipment on difficult terrain, from the deployment area to the target where they need to carry out their specific mission. This platform is defined as a “low profile” light tactical four-wheeled electric vehicle with a “driver” onboard. Equipped with powerful but silent electric engines, and having increased stability due to the constructive solution of its suspension and an intuitive man-machine interface, the vehicle can be totally controlled by an operator with minimum training. It has a simple design, which leads to increased reliability and easy maintenance.

As a side note, the electric scooter available for rental (which has a GPS tracking scooter) was designed in order to solve a problem regarding traffic in the large metropolises, the problem of the “the last mile”.

This concerns the possibility of transiting from the area where you leave public transport, which is deficient (that is how it was planned and executed by urban planners) up to the place where you actually want to arrive, without having any other transport means available and without having to care about finding a parking spot. This if, obviously, you do not want to walk for relatively long distances. The electric scooter with GPS monitoring can take you rapidly from point A to point B, and you can leave it close to your location, wherever you need to be.

The vehicle developed by the Israelis and tested by their SOF basically does the same thing. It transports SOF battle-ready troops from their deployment zone from a helicopter, for example, to the area where they will carry out a high-risk operation to neutralize/eliminate important terrorist elements, or conquer, or neutralize a strategic objective.

Let me give you an example. Back when I was carrying out missions in Afghanistan, one of the rules in the planning, approval and execution of special ops was for night-time infiltration through the “Helicopter Assault Force – HAF” method – usually carried out with CHINOOK CH-47 aerial platforms – to have a landing zone established at a minimum safety distance from the target. Which makes a lot of sense when you want to minimize risks for the force and the mission, taking into account the potentially violent responses which the enemy will carry out.

The troops were deployed there, and Operational Detachments Alpha – ODA – would travel by foot, stealthily and as fast as possible, in order to surprise the enemy at the objective. Obviously, after the mission was accomplished, the same route was used in the opposite direction for extraction. Most of the times, the route was chosen so that it could mask the operators, usually uneven ground. The problem was about operators traversing the last mile, which required considerable effort. A transportation problem which, in the day-to-day life of large cities, is partially solved by electric scooter rentals.

The four-wheeled light electric tactical vehicle’s technical and tactical characteristics

The technical and tactical characteristics of a wheeled military vehicle (mobility, firepower and protection) are multi-dimensional and can offer some data when we want to analyse the utility and efficiency of transporting SOF troops on these platforms for specific missions. The main construction parameters need to take into account the following: the main dimensions (size – length, width, height), the wheelbase[i], the track gauge[ii], the consoles[iii], ground clearance[iv], longitudinal and transversal radius[v] and crossing angles[vi], as well as the steering radius[vii].

These rare the geometrical characteristics of the wheeled platform’s traversal capability, and they can determine if it is made bigger or smaller. For example, a higher ground clearance coupled with high values of the crossing angles and low values of consoles and longitudinal and transversal steering radiuses make for an increased capacity of traversing uneven terrain. The capability to traverse, which is a component of mobility, is also influenced by the report between the wheel traction force and grip, by the wheeled vehicles stability and manoeuvrability, and also by the quality of its suspension.

From the info posted on the manufacturer’s website, this vehicle, in its two-wheel-drive option, weighs 70kg, has a height of 127 cm, a length of 161 cm and a width of 66 cm (dimensions which are very similar to those of electric scooters), has an independent suspension and ensures increased stability, has a range of up to 40 km, can reach maximum speeds of 70 km/h and has prices starting from USD8,500.

The four-wheel-drive improves traction and power, is made to operate in extreme conditions (snow, mud, sandy soils) and also has an impressive towing capability, and can even go over steps. It has slightly bigger dimensions, weighs 135 g, has a 3000 W/h 60V battery and has four powerful 1200W electric engines. In this case, the range increases to 80 km in a single battery charge. It is also, obviously, way more expensive.

The vehicle can be packaged and transported with ease, including by air (and can be parachuted), but also by land or sea.

Can such an electric vehicle meet the mission’s requirements for SOF?

Following a set of successful tests, the US bought several such light electrical vehicles to continue their operational assessment. The Israelis are already in the midst of such an assessment, and state that the vehicle is basically a personal off-road vehicle for members of the military which, with the help of satellites, can be programmed to use the easiest route on the uneven ground and is silent (due to electric engine propulsion), which allows operational detachment to infiltrate the objective while maintaining the element of surprise. It can carry up to two fully-equipped combat units, it can tow a special cart to transport additional equipment, which can be of great help in mountain areas with low oxygen levels, where vehicles with a thermal engine would struggle.

Israel previously tested “buggy” type vehicles with thermal engines for similar missions, but they did not fully meet operational requirements, as they were loud and did not have the capability to traverse all obstacles, such as the EZ Raider.

I remember that almost two decades ago, when I was part of a paratrooper unit, we had also received for operational testing several “buggy”-type vehicles produced in Romania, with two and four-wheel-drive versions, equipped with the classical Dacia 1300 engines, which ran on gas and were named HAMSTER (1, 2, 3). They were designed for special mission troops, to be transportable and deployable by air and, despite partially accomplishing some of the operational needs, the project was abandoned, among others because of low reliability, high sound production and difficulties in developing the product and implement the integrated logistical supports, but also due to the tumultuous economic evolutions of the time.

Coming back to an analysis of the EZ Raider’s technical-tactical characteristics, we see the fact that it clearly wins the aspect of mobility. And by this, I mean the traversal capability which can be increased also with the help of the operator which, when needed, can dismount the platform, lift it and move it around in order to overcome most of the possible obstacles and continue its course. This adds to the advantages of a relatively high speed on uneven ground and the very low sound generation, as well decreased thermal imprint which considerably improve the aspects of stealth and ensuring the element of surprise.

The relatively high range of action, its adequate capability for personnel and equipment transport, as well as the ease with which these light electrical vehicles can be packaged, transported, hidden or eventually abandoned, according to the circumstances, are also other advantages which should be taken into account when it comes to making a possible purchase for SOF troops.

However, when we refer to the chapters of personnel protection or firepower, the disadvantages of this type of wheeled infiltration platforms are obvious. They are very vulnerable to IED attacks, regardless of whether they are placed on the route, on the side of the route or hung and hidden in vegetation elements. And in theatres of operation such as Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, this type of attacks are a modus operandi. And the vehicle has vulnerabilities even in mobility if, in case of need, it must traverse a water course.

There are also other solutions to ease the SOF operators’ “last mile” transportation. An option which the US has been working on for some time, but has been suspended for the moment, is the much-promoted Tactical Assault Light Operator project, a portable robot (soft exosuit or exoskeleton) meant to improve the operator’s mobility and force. For them, it seems that the EZ Raider is an alternative to be taken into consideration.

This vehicle seems to be a compromise between mobility, firepower and personnel protection, but you are frequently required to make compromises in planning and carrying out special operations, with the mention that you always need to be able to manage the risks, both to the own force and the mission.

Whether this type of vehicle would be suitable to equip the Romanian Army’s Special Operations Forces can only be decided by specialists within these structures, following a similar analysis. If the answer is yes, ODA members will probably have to add one more ability to their vast range of multi-discipline specializations. That of “juicer”, more specifically of taking care to collect the electrical transport platforms after use and recharging their batteries

Translated by Ionut Preda


[i] The wheelbase = the distance between the (geometrical) axes of the wheeled vehicle’s axles

[ii] The track gauge = the distance between the median planes of the wheels on the vehicle’s same axle

[iii] The console = the distance between the vertical plane from the center of wheels on the same axles (front/rear) and the vehicle’s most advanced point (front/rear)

[iv] Ground clearance = the vertical distance between the lowest part of the vehicle at maximum load and the ground

[v] Longitudinal and transversal radius = the radius of cylindrical surfaces which is tangential to the front wheels, rear wheels and the vehicle’s lowest point between the two axels (longitudinal) and to the vehicle’s lowest point and the interior surface of the tires (transversal)

[vi] Crossing angle (front/rear) = the angle between the ground tangent and the tire tangent (front/rear) and the most front/rear point of the vehicle’s platform

[vii] Steering radius = the vehicle’s possibility to steer on the smallest surface possible (at low speeds) and with the steering wheel spun around its axis, at the maximum specific steering angle of the steered wheels