First order rolls in for SVI’s six-wheeled MAX 3 armoured vehicle

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An African nation has placed the first order for SVI’s new six-wheeled MAX 3 armoured vehicle, kicking off what the company is confident will be the first of many fresh contracts.

The customer will use the vehicles for non-military applications – the vehicles will be outfitted as general cargo carriers. Production has just begun at SVI’s factory east of Pretoria, and should be completed by February next year.

The order “is a good start” for the six-wheeled variant, according to SVI CEO Jaco de Kock, who believes it “will definitely open the door for other customers.”

The six-wheeled version of the popular 4×4 MAX 3 was displayed for the first time at the September 2022 Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition in Pretoria. It is based on Toyota’s proven Land Cruiser 79 chassis, as with the 4×4 MAX 3. Both are powered by a 4.5-litre V8 turbodiesel powertrain, giving a top speed of 140 km/h. The six-wheel version is based on the MAX 3 double cab body style, with the new axle configuration also available on the company’s MAX 3 single cab and MAX 3 Troopy armoured personnel carrier.

The addition of a third axle means the MAX 3’s Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) can be safely increased to 5 500 kg, from 3 800 kg, opening the door to numerous military and security applications, including the fitment of various weapon systems, cargo carrying options and even field ambulance configurations. Total payload is now 1 500 kg.

To keep cost and complexity of the system in check, the additional axle on the six-wheeler is non-driven. Even so, mobility is enhanced as the extra axle provides increased flotation over soft surfaces. Driven by defenceWeb on SVI’s offroad handling track, the six-wheel MAX 3 floated over axle twisters, rocks and other obstacles, with the third axle smoothing out the ride over rough terrain. However, the extra length of the wheelbase was not at all apparent, and the vehicle was as simple to drive as the 4×4 MAX 3. It was easy to forget that the six-wheel MAX 3 is an armoured vehicle and not a Land Cruiser, as controls, ergonomics and view are very similar to the unmodified Toyota.

Although weighing in at around four tons, the six-wheel MAX 3 did not feel heavy or sluggish, with plenty of excess power and brusque acceleration from the V8 diesel – even with the Scorpion mortar on the back, the vehicle had plenty of energy climbing steep inclines. On the tar, it promptly got up to the legal cruising speed of 120 km/h, with plenty more power in reserve.

SVI is now looking at producing a 6×6 version, with all six wheels fully powered, but this will of course be more expensive to manufacture.

The conversion process to create a MAX 3 entails removing the soft-skin body of the donor Land Cruiser 79 and replacing it with a hull designed in-house and manufactured from armoured steel plate. The vehicle provides a minimum protection level of EN1063 BR6 (assault rifles) with additional protection against anti-personnel grenades. The vehicle is furthermore upgradeable to BR7.

Proven and versatile platform

Different configurations of the MAX 3 can be produced for customers, such as ambulance, weapons carrier etc. At the Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition, for example, the six-wheeled vehicle was fitted with a counter-drone system while the MAX 3 six-wheeler on display at SVI’s factory is fitted with a Thales Scorpion remotely operated mortar.

Nicol Louw, SVI Business Development Director, told defenceWeb that production of the 4×4 MAX 3 is moving at a steady rate, with around one per week being manufactured. A big selling point is that it is cheaper than a Land Cruiser 300.

A recent MAX 3 customer is the Mossel Bay Municipality, which bought two for duties such as riot control. Louw explained that the municipality wanted a smaller, more agile vehicle than something like the police Nyala, so it can operate in tight urban areas. The Mossel Bay MAX 3s are fitted with scrapers so they can clear obstacles, such as on blocked highways. After the Mossel Bay order, other municipalities have expressed interest in acquiring the vehicle.

Most MAX 3 customers are security and mining companies – there is big demand from the mining sector. This year alone, SVI is projecting it will sell 30 MAX 3 vehicles. The MAX 3 is suitable for non-military tasks such as mining security, riot control, civil security, anti-poaching and convoy protection (valuables in transit).

The original MAX 3 was launched at the September 2018 edition of the Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition. It can be fitted with a range of additional equipment, including the Thales Scorpion 60/81 mm automated mortar, 12.7 mm pintle mount or 12.7 mm Rogue Lite remotely operated weapon station. One customer has already ordered the Scorpion system for its vehicles. Other options are fire extinguishing systems, long range acoustic devices for crowd control, and less lethal solutions.

Expanding facilities

As a specialised vehicle armourer, SVI has seen rapid growth in recent years, with its production facilities outside Pretoria at full capacity (SVI also has offices in Cape Town and Saudi Arabia). Demand for armoured vehicles, from commercial, defence and security sectors, has been so great that SVI is adding two new production buildings to its Pretoria premises (one 600 square metres and the other 750 square metres), and is pushing its workforce up to over 100 people. The company aims to build 200 vehicles this year alone.

Not all SVI’s vehicles are sold outright – it has a large fleet of more than 30 armoured vehicles available for rental, including some MAX 3 vehicles. De Kock said most of these were hired out for the recent BRICS Summit in Johannesburg. Notwithstanding large events, the rental fleet “has very high utilisation rates,” he said.

Coupled with the growth in armoured vehicle sales, SVI offers driver training solutions at its dedicated academy alongside its Pretoria East factory. SVI says its academy is the only one in South Africa to offer SASSETA certified dedicated training on armoured vehicles, with a focus on defensive driving skills like night driving, offroad driving, convoy driving etc. – where armoured vehicle drivers are most likely to get into trouble. “Offroad and at night are where the problems lie,” de Kock emphasised. Other skills taught during the five-day course include obstacle clearance, tactical deployment, legal aspects, high-speed driving etc.

De Kock said the driver training academy is running well, with many trainees acquiring specialist skills for embassies.