Fatal shooting incidents have been headlining the local news of late, and many of these have involved those being in vehicles.
Notable cases include that which occurred on July 6, when a 32-year-old property agent was killed and her daughter injured when the vehicle they were in was shot at by assailants. Another happened earlier this week, when a 43-year-old man was shot to death in his car at the Jalan Taman Ibu Kota/Jalan Genting Klang junction.
No doubt, the reaction among many to the sudden increase in such gun-related crimes will be one of heightened concern and to take a closer look at the possibility of improving the level of protection in a vehicle by “bullet-proofing” it.
If you’ve been toying with that idea, you best be prepared to be committed, in every possible sense. The subject is not as simple – and straightforward – as it sounds, the deeper one delves into it.
For one, armouring a civilian vehicle and increasing its bullet-resistance capabilities involves a lot of time, effort and more importantly, money. The idea that you can get it all done in days and on the cheap is a fallacy – a few thousand to get your Kancil up to being able to handle small-arms fire while keeping you intact in the process isn’t even remotely a possibility.
The period after a spate of shootings always sees a sudden increase in enquiries about armouring a car, according to Ho Chong Chuai. The managing director of SecuGlass, a local company involved in the manufacture of bullet-resistant glass products, said that the number of calls he gets jumps significantly following a rise in incidents. Virtually all enquiries, however, never follow through.
“Everyone thinks it’s straightforward and cheap to make a car bullet-resistant, but when we tell them the cost involved in the process, they give up on the idea,” he laughs. Ho, whose company outfits security vans and also provides bullet-resistant glass for military-based applications, says that armouring a civilian vehicle to be able to handle the minimum level of protection from small-arms fire can cost up to RM90,000, and that’s quite basic in its intent, he explained.
While retrofit armouring work involves replacing the standard glass fittings on the car with ballistic-resistant glazed shielding (transparent armour) and adding sheet protection (opaque armour) behind the metalwork of the car, there are many levels of protection, each increasing in complexity and, as you’d expect, price.
In general, the basic ballistic rating capability of the transparent armour has to meet a DIN EN 1063 (for opaque armour, EN 1522) BR2 threat level rating, which makes it capable of handling 9×19 mm Parabellum rounds fired from a handgun. In bullet-resistant vehicle (BRV 2009) classification terms, this translates to a VR3 rating. A BR4 (or VR4) rating offers protection up to .44 Remington Magnum rounds.
The latter is what IMS Magna Armoring’s offerings are rated to. When it first began operations two years ago, the KL-based company’s armouring work was rated to BR2 classification, but this has since been upped to BR4 levels, its managing director Howe Chin said.
The company’s main body of work involves performing security modifications for civilian cars, and its business involves vehicles in the luxury segment. That’s not surprising, because with a job costing anywhere from RM145,000 to RM200,000, you’re not going to find mid-market offerings going that route.
Here, the armouring work consists of replacing all glass components with glazed shielding, which consists of a sandwich of glass, polyvinyl butyral, glass, polyurethane and finally, polycarbonate layers, bonded together. It is this composite that gives the transparent armour its ballistic capabilities. In BR2 applications, the thickness of the glazed shielding is 15 mm, while to achieve a BR4 rating, a 22 mm thickness is required, Chin explained.
Unlike in factory-installed versions, the transparent armour windows are usually fixed in place in retrofit applications, and the use of the original doors are retained. In IMA Magna’s case, the rear windows are fixed units, while the front windows can be wound down very slightly to present a small aperture. A fully-functional AC looks to be a big must, as is having to open the door to get parking tickets in private car park lots.
Meanwhile, ballistic nylon and para-aramid fibre (better known by its trademarked name, Kevlar) sheets are used for the opaque armour in the doors and body. The latter helps keep the weight down, but there’s no escaping that a security vehicle has to pile on the pounds due to its nature. Both men said that in normal applications, around 200 kg is added on to a vehicle’s kerb weight.
A weight penalty is inescapable, Ho says, though this can be mitigated with the use of lighter materials, though this bumps up the cost. Also, other considerations come into play – the more comprehensive the protection, the heavier it usually gets.
Despite having an extra 200 kg on, things aren’t a real issue, but go well beyond that and it will be. “For example, the suspension and brakes, which are meant to only deal with a standard car, may not be able to cope and will have to be upgraded,” he said.
The fitting work is both labour and time-intensive. “The process of armouring a car can take from four to six weeks to complete,” Ho said, adding that a couple of weeks are needed to allow the inter-layer bonding agent in the glazed shielding to cure completely.
The same timeframe is given by Chin, who said that the transparent armour used by his company is fully imported and needs a lead time of about two months to be brought in. Fitting work is carried out locally at an undisclosed location to protect the client’s confidentiality.
Dedicated security offerings from manufacturers, of which there are a number of examples, naturally offer a higher level of security, by virtue of having being designed in mind for this purpose and correspondingly worked upon as such. They also cost a lot more, naturally.
Notable examples are the BMW X5 Security Plus, which has a VR6 rating (technically between BR4 and BR5, and 7.62×39 mm AK-47 proof) and the Range Rover Sentinel, which has a VR8 (between BR6 and BR7) classification and is able to withstand 7.62 mm high velocity, armour-piercing incendiary bullets and offer side protection against up to 15 kg of TNT blasts and DM51 grenades from beneath the floor and above.
There’s also the Audi A8 L Security, equipped with hot-formed armoured steel, aramid fabrics, ceramics, special aluminum alloys and multi-plate glass, and which is good for a VR9 (or a BR7) classification rating. That, if you must know, is capable of handling 7.62×51 mm NATO sub-caliber rounds, or assault-rifle levels of threat, which is highly unlikely to be seen here.
During the interview, Ho shows examples of transparent armour that have gone through evaluation trials. All the samples, be they from the impact of 9 mm handgun or 5.56×45 mm (from the M16) and 7.62 mm rifle rounds (there’s even one from a grenade blast), aren’t pretty to look at, but as he points out, “the armour has done its job, terminating the velocity of the projectile and keeping the occupants behind it safe. And that is what it is all about.”
So there you have it – while you can make your car bullet-proof, it’s not going to be a simple or cheap process. The last word then from Ho, who – despite being in the business of providing ballistic protection – says very few civilians are likely to need their vehicle to be armoured. “It’s all about your track record. If you have nothing to fear, then you won’t need it. But it’s there if you want it, much like insurance.” The question is, do you?