Protection Failure Analysis of an Armored Toyota SUV
By James M. Gannalo - Stria Consulting Group
Forensic Firearms Consultant and Expert Witness
Forensic Firearms Consultant and Expert Witness
Using practical shooting reconstruction techniques, the authors successfully determined the cause of a shooting injury in an armored civilian vehicle in Iraq. Determining the reason for the vehicle’s armor failure was considered paramount to address safety concerns for allied military personnel. This information was used to improve safety in vehicles destined for military and civilian service in Iraq and the Afghanistan theatre.
In 2006, responding to a request from its Director of International Affairs, the authors traveled to the emirate of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to investigate the failure of an armored sport utility vehicle to protect its occupants from gunfire. These occupants were Special Forces military personnel from United Arab Emirates supporting anti-terrorism efforts by and allied to the United States military forces in the region. This incident caused a great deal of concern for the safety of other allied military personnel operating similar vehicles in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
A preliminary investigation revealed that two members of the United Arab Emirates military came under hostile automatic weapon fire while operating an armored 2005 Toyota Land Cruiser. This vehicle had been re-configured as an “armored” vehicle by a private corporation in the United Arab Emirates after delivery from Toyota. This extremely expensive process (approximately $100,000.00) was performed on two hundred (200) similar vehicles operated by the United Arab Emirates military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hazardous locations throughout the world.
While operating in an undisclosed location in Iraq, this vehicle sustained damage when it came under enemy fire while on patrol. Two projectiles and a number of bullet fragments penetrated the interior of the vehicle during the shooting incident. The driver sustained a serious bullet wound to his left chest area while the front passenger was reportedly unharmed. The vehicle was removed from service in Iraq and subsequently returned to Abu Dhabi via military transport for forensic examination.
The vehicle was stored outdoors in a secure compound in Abu Dhabi and remained in its original condition after the shooting incident. Assisting the authors in the investigation was a member of the Abu Dhabi military Special Forces who had personal combat experience operating similar vehicles in war zones located in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. The vehicle was visually inspected and photographed using generally accepted crime scene techniques to document its condition.
The initial examination began with a documented inspection of the exterior of the vehicle (Figure 1). The location of each bullet impact on the exterior of the truck was noted. Twenty-four bullet impacts on the vehicle were counted, including strikes located on the front left tire, left front fender, driver’s door, right rear quarter panel, rear doors, left rear quarter panel, and roof.
Additionally, bullet impacts were noted on the bullet resistant glass located in the windshield, driver’s door, left rear passenger door, right rear side window and in the right rear door. The bullet resistant glass defeated all of the bullet strikes and none of the projectiles penetrated into the vehicle’s interior.
The following digital images (Figures 2 through 4) illustrate the locations of the bullet impact marks and the extent of the damage to the vehicle during the incident:
The left side of the vehicle exhibited a total of thirteen (13) bullet impact points. These included:
1-bullet hole in the front tire (A);
1-bullet hole in the left front fender (penetrating the engine compartment and severing the fuel line, incapacitating the engine of the vehicle); (B)
3-bullet holes in the driver’s door; (C)
2-bullet impact marks on the driver’s side window; (D)
1-bullet hole in the “B pillar” between the doors; (E)
1-bullet impact mark on left side passenger window adjacent to the “B pillar” of the vehicle; (F)
3-bullet impact marks to the left rear window ;(G) and
1-bullet hole in the left rear quarter panel (H).
The rear of the vehicle exhibited nine (9) bullet impact marks. These included:
5-bullet holes in the left rear door; (I)
3-bullet holes in the right rear door; (J) and
1-bullet impact mark on the right rear window (K).
NOTE: Unlike the side doors, the rear doors were not armored to permit access to a pair of pull down jump seats in the rear cargo area. A hinged steel tail gate was installed for protection in this area. It was designed to be lifted into place before the doors were closed in order to shield the passengers from projectiles striking the area below the bullet resistant rear windows.
The right side of the vehicle exhibited only one (1) bullet hole (X) and a series of impacts indicating the bullet traveled along the rear quarter panel and exited just over the right rear wheel. (See large arrow)
The roof of the truck exhibited one (1) bullet hole which struck the vehicle just behind the top of the front windshield. This projectile was defeated by the armor plating installed in the roof of the vehicle.
Additional photographs were taken of the vehicle, including close-ups of the impact sites and additional visible damage to the truck. Due to the excessive heat of the Abu Dhabi desert, the vehicle was moved under a portico for the remaining portions of the investigation. An assessment of the armor installed in the vehicle was undertaken as the next step in the investigation.
Understanding Vehicle Armor and Bullet Resistant Glass
The following information will assist the reader to better understand the ballistic principals of both vehicle armor and bullet resistant glass. These days, an examiner doesn’t have to travel to a war zone to be exposed to casework involving civilian armored vehicles. Executives, celebrities, criminals and the extremely affluent all choose to travel around American cities inside of vehicles which have been armored in some way. It is very plausible that in the future a number of firearm examiners will be called upon to perform a shooting reconstruction of one of these vehicles.
Bullet Resistant Glass
Bullet resistant glass is created by adding a sheet of polycarbonate material between two layers of glass during the laminate process. Polycarbonate is a tough plastic used for a variety of applications but its main advantage is incredible strength combined with light weight. Polycarbonate is nearly unbreakable and just one-sixth as heavy as glass. Polycarbonate is often known by the brand name Lexan, Tuffak or Cyrolon. 
Laminated glass is produced using a heat and pressure process, sandwiching a flexible interlayer between layers of glass. Laminated glass has the advantage over standard glass in that it will not shatter because the interlayer is not subject to the same brittle failure as standard tempered glass. Bullet resistant glass is designed to withstand bullets depending on the thickness of the glass and the type of weapon being fired at it.
An armored motor vehicle is one which has been reinforced with armored plating to protect the vehicle and its occupants from gunfire, explosives, and other hazards. These plates are typically installed by attaching them directly to the frame of the vehicle after the upholstery has been removed. Ballistic plates are installed in the roof and floor of the passenger compartment and around the engine for additional protection. An illustration showing some of the installation points of ballistic materials in a typical armored vehicle is shown in Figure 6. These dense metal or ceramic plates stop projectiles by fragmenting and/or deflecting them away from the occupants of the vehicle. There are a range of uses for armored vehicles, with the bulk of armored vehicles around the world being used by militaries and governments. It is also possible to purchase such vehicles for private use, although they tend to be quite expensive.
An armored vehicle can be obtained in one of two ways: by specifically ordering an armored vehicle, or by outfitting an existing vehicle with armored plates. Several car companies make armored vehicles which range from models only available in armored configurations to models which are available armored or unarmored, depending on the need. Many existing vehicles can also be armored with the assistance of a specialty company.
In addition to thick metal or ceramic plates, an armored vehicle usually includes a range of other safety measures. For example, tires are typically reinforced and the glass in the vehicle is typically bulletproof. Many armored vehicles have highly advanced steering and braking systems which allow the driver more control over the car. These systems help to compensate for the increased weight of the car and are sometimes designed to make the car as maneuverable as possible, since getting out of a dangerous situation is usually a critical need, even if the vehicle is armored against potential threats.
Many corporations around the world design and install bullet resistant systems for private use armored vehicles. Trucks manufactured by Toyota are extremely popular world-wide and a variety of systems have been installed in vehicles of this class. Different types of bullet resistant materials are installed after the vehicle has been manufactured with different levels of protection guaranteed by the companies installing the protection.
Typical installations as advertised by the International Armoring Corporation® of Ogden, Utah  include the following vehicle modifications:
Level of Protection - Base Armor Ballistic Specifications for an IAC Level 5 (Level B-6): HIGH POWER RIFLE DEFEAT. Penetration protection for the following calibers:
• .357 Magnum (fmj, coned bullet, or soft core), 10.2 g, 425 ms / 158gr. 1450 fps
• 9mm luger (fmj, round nose or soft core), 8 g., 381 ms / 124gr. 1250 fps
• .44 Magnum (fmj, flat nose, or soft core), 15.6 g, 460 ms / 240gr 1510 fps
• 7.62 X 39mm, 9.3g, 713ms / 145 gr., 2,430 fps
• 7.62 X 39mm, 7.9g, 822 ms / 123 gr., 2,697 fps
• 7.62 x 51mm M80 (fmj - or soft core), 9.5 g, 830 ms / 147 gr., 2,700 fps
• 5.56 x 45 (fmj, pointed bullet, soft core, SS109), 4 g, 950 m/s, / 62gr. 3116 fps
General Armoring Specifications
Glass areas: Windshield, rear doors and side glass will be removed and replaced with bullet-resistant transparent armor multi-layer glass and polycarbonate inner layer to prevent spalling upon ballistic impact. Glass will be curved and contoured to retain the appearance of the original glass. All transparent areas will be B6+/NIJ III+.
Windows: Driver door window is operable.
Vehicle Body: Doors, pillar posts, side panels, kick-panels, firewall, and headers (laterals) will be armored with ballistic composite material or ballistic steel in accordance with defined standard of defeat.
Roof: Armored with ballistic composite material in accordance with NIJ III standards at 30 degree angle protection.
Floor: Floor areas will be armored with multi-ply rigid ballistic fragmentation material molded to form fit contours of floorboards and panels.
Vehicle Structured Modifications: Reinforcement of pillar posts and hinges, high-pressure heavy-duty shocks, and upgrade of suspension to include HD torsion bars and polyurethane bushings. Hardened plastic door risers installed on all doors.
Fuel Tank: Ballistic fragmentation blanket.
The subject vehicle in this case had been upgraded locally with a similar system. Externally, as shown in the submitted images, the vehicle shows no apparent modifications. A visual examination of the interior of the truck confirms that additional panels and steel plates had been attached to the roof, floor, frame and doors of the vehicle and concealed by re-installed upholstery. The weights of the four side doors are noticeably heavier than an ordinary vehicle due to the additional weight of the bullet resistant glass and armored panels. The side bullet resistant windows operated normally.
Determining the Reason for Failure
The next step in this investigation was to attempt to determine which bullet impacts penetrated into the passenger compartment of the truck. Each bullet impact was identified by a sequential numeral and marked with adhesive scales. Any secondary bullet holes or impact marks were recorded and determined to correspond to bullet holes on the exterior of the vehicle.
Next, standard ballistic trajectory rods were carefully inserted into each bullet hole. In this case, determination of the position of the shooter was considered unnecessary because of the known movement of the vehicle during the incident. It should be noted that the impacts to the left side of the truck exhibited angles that indicated the firearm was held (possibly supported) perpendicular to the vehicle. Moreover, the angle of the shots that struck the rear of the vehicle indicated the driver likely accelerated away from the shooting scene as the gunfire erupted.
NOTE: The bullet hole in the roof of the truck has remained unexplained in this scenario unless a second shooter was located above the vehicle at the time of the incident. This information was not provided to the authors.
Inspection of the interior of the vehicle uncovered a number of points of impact as well as visible damage to the passenger compartment. At that time, we concluded that two projectiles and a number of fragments penetrated the vehicle. The most obvious damage was caused by the projectile penetrating the rear door and culminated with a projectile (steel core) deeply embedded into the windshield (Figure 7).
This steel core was a component of a bullet that struck at the bottom of the left rear door. The bullet perforated the door and passed under the piano hinge of the rear lift gate before fragmenting into two pieces (jacket and core).
The jacket portion embedded itself in the rear seat and was recovered during the investigation. The core perforated the rear seat and the front driver’s side seat before striking the windshield with enough force to embed itself in the bullet resistant glass of the windshield.
This projectile was determined to not have caused the injury to the driver. This conclusion was based on its trajectory and the position of the bullet wound on the left side of the driver’s chest.
As previously reported, a fold down metal lift gate consisting of approximately ½” of steel was added for protection to the rear cargo area. This gate was operated using a heavy duty piano type of hinge and was locked into place on both sides of the cargo compartment. Two fold down jump seats were used for additional passengers in this area. Additional protection was provided by tinted bullet resistant glass installed in both doors.
Figures 8 through 10 illustrate the path of the bullet after entering the vehicle.
Passing under the tailgate hinge, the bullet struck the steel plate mounted under the cargo area and deflected up into the rear seat (Figure 8).
The core and jacket separated at this point and the jacket was embedded in the seat back. The steel core perforated the back seat and continued into the front seat (Figure 9).
The core perforated the front seat back in an area which could have caused a serious injury to the driver of the vehicle (Figure 10).
The projectile passing through bullet hole #6 was determined to have struck the bullet resistant glass of the left rear window at a shallow angle and deflected into the “C pillar” of the truck’s frame. After impacting the armor at the driver’s side C pillar, the bullet fragmented into two pieces and deflected forward towards the driver via a gap between the armor and the interior of the pillar.
These fragments entered the vehicle’s interior through a narrow gap between the armor panels installed on the C pillar and were embedded in the insulation and plastic (see arrows) on the interior surface (Figure 11).
It was determined that this was not the projectile/s that struck the driver due to the bullet’s fragmentation and lack of discernable penetration into the driver’s area of the truck’s interior Small fragments of the bullet’s jacket were recovered from the insulation.
The projectile passing through bullet hole #5 was determined to be the actual bullet causing the shooting injury (Figures 12 through 14). Trajectory analysis revealed that the bullet struck and perforated the “B pillar” and continued into the passenger compartment of the truck striking the driver. This was considered to be extraordinary since ballistic armor was installed directly over this part of the “B pillar” interior. Additional examination of the area was necessary to determine how this projectile defeated the protective covering plate. After removing the upholstery covering the armor, it became obvious to us how this occurred:
Practical accommodations must be made regarding the safety of the vehicle during the armor installation process. Ignoring the seat belt restraint system could lead to serious injury to passengers of the vehicle during incidents not involving gunfire. This restraint system had priority during the installation of the vehicle’s armor.
In this case, a 1 1/8” long by 1” wide hole was drilled into the steel plate armor at the location where the driver’s shoulder restraint was bolted into the frame of the truck. This anchor bolt was then secured into the “B pillar” according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Incredibly, the bullet penetrated the B pillar at an angle allowing it to miss the attached steel armor, passed through the small hole drilled into the steel (Figure 14), effectively missing the anchor bolt assembly (See arrow) and then struck the driver causing his injury.
NOTE: The driver was wearing military grade body armor at the time of the incident. The bullet struck his body in a location not protected by his body armor.
Armored SUV’s similar to the subject vehicle in this case are designed to defeat projectiles fired from a variety of different small arms calibers. The caliber of the bullets striking this vehicle was determined to be consistent with the standard 7.62 x 39mm cartridge. Although an injury occurred in this case, it’s a fact that all rounds that struck portions of the vehicle protected by bullet resistant glass or ballistic armor panels were defeated. Bullets impacting these areas were either deflected away from the vehicle, fragmented, or were completely stopped by the installed protection.
This case is unique in that three projectiles actually penetrated past the vehicle’s protection with one causing serious physical injury to the driver. Based on the number of apparent bullet impacts (twenty-five (25) with three (3) bullets penetrating into the interior of the truck), the failure rate was approximately 12%. This percentage of protection “failures” seems high, especially to an individual relying on a vehicle’s armor protection for their safety.
The shot placement in this case appeared to be controlled, burst fire. An almost horizontal shot pattern is recognized as being consistent with the shooter controlling his shots and keeping this automatic firing weapon on target. It appears that the shot pattern was initiated at the front left tire and continued along the left side while the vehicle accelerated away from the threat. The shots continued striking the rear of the truck as it sped away from the attack.
In the opinion of the authors, steps can be taken to lessen the possibility of protection failures in similarly armored vehicles. A number of these were reported to the client in this case including the following:
• It was suggested to change the method of securing the shoulder harness portion of the seat belt system to the frame of the vehicle by using an alternate fastener. A possible solution would be to weld the shoulder harness anchors directly to the B and C pillar’s armor, removing the possibility of a projectile passing around a securing bolt.
• Another suggestion was to narrow the gaps between the ballistic panels and the vehicle’s frame, especially near a window frame. Bullets striking at a shallow angle on the bullet resistant windows have an increased ability to travel along the frame of the vehicle and enter through even the smallest of gaps.
• Choosing an existing option of having armor installed in the engine compartment would prevent projectiles from entering this area. In this case, the fuel line was severed, causing the vehicle to eventually stall. This could have resulted in a life threatening situation, such as an engine fire or having to exit the vehicle while still under fire.
• In order to avoid sudden tire deflation, which could cause the vehicle to stop or a loss of control for the driver, a solution of equipping this vehicle with run flat tires was suggested for the protection of its occupants. In this incident, one bullet punctured the left front tire causing it to go flat.
• Finally, a solution to the bullet’s incursion at the hinge of the steel lift gate in the rear of the truck might be an additional narrow ballistic panel attached to the corresponding area of the back doors. This would solve the vulnerability without adding excessive weight to the doors.
The authors wish to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Yousef Mana Al Otaiba, Director of International Affairs, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and the hereto unnamed Colonel, Special Forces, Union Defense Force, United Arab Emirates for their sincere hospitality and professional assistance in this investigation. Additionally, we would like to thank Sgt. Solomon Vega (USMC Retired) for his practical knowledge of full automatic weapon fire.
 “How Stuff Works”. . Accessed March 2009.
 “International Armoring Corporation” homepage. . Accessed March 2009.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: By: Detective James M. Gannalo (Ret.) & Detective Edward Wallace (Ret.), Independent Forensic Consultants
Retired NYPD Detective and practicing forensic firearms examiner/training consultant in the fields of firearms operability, microscopic analysis of ballistics evidence and shooting incident reconstruction. I’ve provided professional assistance to attorneys, municipalities and law enforcement agencies for case evaluation, courtroom and trial presentation in both criminal prosecution and civil litigation in fifteen different states since my service retirement in 1998.
Copyright James M. Gannalo - Stria Consulting Group
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.