Do You Off-Road Your APC? Properly Upfitting Your Armored Vehicle

July 15, 2021
To help ensure that their Bearcats are up to any task you might require, Lenco has been upgrading them with the Meritor axles and suspension for years.
Several decades ago I entered Uncle Sam’s Army as a trainee for the Military Police Corps. During Basic Training and Military Police School, I was exposed to a variety of vehicles from Jeeps (yes, it was that long ago) to Utility Trucks (fancy name for pickup trucks) to tracked armored personnel carriers (APCs) and the infamous “deuce and a half.” I assumed, at the time, that each of them was perfectly capable of being driven off-road as well as on paved roads (because combat often strays off-road) and could be loaded to their full weight-rated limit. What I didn’t learn until some decades later was that not all vehicles, even if equipped for driving off-road, can do so at their full weight limit without some type of upgrade. That’s more about the suspension than the vehicle but the entire vehicle sits on the suspension which is connected to the axles with tires at each end. At the end of the day, if the tires fail, the vehicle stops. If the axles fail, the vehicle stops. If the suspension fails the vehicle (usually) stops. Tires are easy to replace—it’s a matter of jacking up the vehicle and turning a few lug nuts. Changing out the axles or suspension takes a bit more and isn’t something that can be easily done in the field.

To ensure that your agency’s APC doesn’t bottom out or break when you need it most (because it’ll most likely break at the least expected and most inconvenient of times), it’s best to ensure that it will support everything you need it all driving conditions. To ascertain the best way to do this, I interviewed representatives from Lenco Armored Vehicles, makers of the famous and trusted Bearcat, and Meritor, a company that manufactures upgraded axle and suspension for APCs—in this case, specifically the Bearcat.

Almost every officer I know has heard of Lenco and knows what a Bearcat is. Any officer who has done any type of special ops/SWAT work definitely knows what the Bearcat is. The large majority of military veterans (with the exception of some desk jockeys) know what a Bearcat is as well. But how many readers have previously heard of Meritor? I had a lot of learning to do.

Meritor has been around for over 100 years having previously been part of the Rockwell Axle company. Through the years and evolution of the company, Meritor became a major player in the industry that manufactures upgraded axles and suspensions for a number of vehicles, but for our interest here, specifically APCs. Lenco is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary this year (2021) and has been manufacturing APCs for law enforcement since 2000.

A lot is learned over the course of 40 to 100-plus years manufacturing APCs and parts upgrades for them. Just holding discussions with representatives from Meritor and Lenco educated me quite a bit. For instance, I wasn’t aware that almost all APCs are built on a Ford F550 frame. What surprised me is that such a frame needed to be upgraded; then it was explained to me.

As an example: If your truck (just regular pickup truck) has a 1,000 pound weight limit (half ton), that’s 1,000 pounds on top of the vehicle’s dry weight. After all, the suspension, frame, axles and tires are all holding the total weight. Let’s say that totals 8,000 pounds. So, you’ve loaded 1,000 pounds into the back of your truck and you go off-roading. There are dips, bumps, holes, etc. The suspension on your truck has to absorb the ADDED weight created moment to moment by the accelerated motion of the weight you’re carrying down and up. That might peak anywhere from 20% to 50% higher than what you’re loaded to. That means that in a particular moment of peak weight load, you might be putting 10,000 pounds or more on a suspension and axles rated to 8,000 pounds. That’s not a good thing.

When we apply that to APCs, it’s easy to see the impact and the concern. A stripped Bearcat on an F550 frame weighs X. But when you start adding on options such as rams, winches and more, the weight goes up. Then you add in the gear you keep stored such as trauma kits, personal protective equipment, breaching tools, etc. and it goes up more. The you add in the team you put in or on it (or both) at roughly 250 pounds per person. A six-man team plus driver and his assistant is eight people multiplied by 250 pounds each—or 2,000 pounds. That’s a TON (literally) of manpower. Add that to the equipment and it’s easy to see where you could add 3,000 pounds (or more) to the gross vehicle weight. that to make an approach.

Knowing that, Lenco recommends that you ask (and insure accurate answers for) a few questions prior to your purchase of any APC:

  • Is it safe?
  • Is it trustworthy?
  • Has the design been validated?
  • Are the upgrades adding to or taking from the service life and maintenance costs?

To help insure that their Bearcats are up to any task you might require, Lenco has been upgrading them with the Meritor axles and suspension for years. Based on the build required by the purchasing agencies, Lenco knows what the finished vehicle will weigh and can make the appropriate recommendation/requirement for the upgraded axles and suspension.

The Meritor axle and suspension system mounts directly in to the existing F550 hard points. They connect direct to the existing suspension components/connection points. The steering linkage is different up to the stock gear box of the truck and their system includes the necessary linkage parts.

With the Meritor upgrade(s) come several benefits for off-road handling and traversing. There is an increase in performance with the hydraulic steering stabilizer. There is a staged integration kit which includes things like the hydraulic assist to keep steering smooth even at the higher gross vehicle weights. There is a driver controlled differential locking device which means not having to get out to lock the differential/tires.

All of that means a more capable, safer vehicle that will suit your needs and be more manageable off-road. Now, I can hear some readers thinking, “I work in the city/near a city. Why would I ever need to go off-road?” Remember that “off-road” means exactly that: any time you leave a hard paved road. Gravel road? Yes. Someone’s backyard? Yes. The ball field at a park? Yes. If you’re not on a hard paved road, you’re “off-roading,” and your vehicle should be prepped for such; or you might find yourself (and your team) stuck someplace in a potentially very bad circumstance.

As was stated earlier, Meritor and Lenco have decades of experience in manufacturing, building and equipping APCs for a variety of duty uses. If you have any questions about what you think you might need, or simply aren’t sure as you start to conceptualize your APC, give them a call. The representatives are very knowledgeable and more than happy to answer questions. The goal is to make sure that the APC you have built and purchase never lets you down. A lot of that depends on identifying all your needs and requirements up front—prior to the build beginning. I was surprised at how much has to be taken into consideration and how much too many take for granted.  

About the Author

Lt. Frank Borelli (ret), Editorial Director | Editorial Director

Lt. Frank Borelli is the Editorial Director for the Officer Media Group. Frank brings 20+ years of writing and editing experience in addition to 40 years of law enforcement operations, administration and training experience to the team.

Frank has had numerous books published which are available on,, and other major retail outlets.

If you have any comments or questions, you can contact him via email at [email protected].

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