Hendrick COMMANDO: The Military Vehicle that Inspired the COMMANDO Jeep Concept

Apr. 07, 2015 By Josh Burns
The Hendricks COMMANDO is small enough to fit into a helicopter but large enough to still carry a hefty payload in the field. Photo: Hendrick Dynamics

Military vehicles have influenced the civilian vehicle market for many, many years. Looking back at the original Willys Jeep that was first produced in 1941, its initial purpose was as a four-wheel drive utility vehicle used in World War II, but this design eventually was repurposed for the civilian market in the form of the first CJ. From then on, the Jeep Wrangler has a long and storied history that is still vibrant today.

Although that first CJ was inspired by the flat-fender Willys designed specifically for the military, the design inspiration isn’t simply a one-way street, as the civilian market can inspire military vehicles as well. A recent example of this is the Hendrick COMMANDO tactical vehicle, the vehicle that inspired the COMMANDO Jeep concept vehicle that Dealer Services International will auction later this year and potentially sell through its network. The Hendrick COMMANDO currently used by our military is a great example of taking preexisting technology and using it to fill a need. We spoke with GM of Hendrick Dynamics Marshall Carlson last week at the Easter Jeep Safari to get a little more insight into this unique vehicle that has been used overseas by our military since 2013.

The Hendrick Dynamics COMMANDO served as the inspiration for the COMMANDO Jeep concept vehicle that will be auctioned later this year.

“When we were approached by the special operations command, our industry really, in North Carolina, was approached to look at unconventional solutions to their mobility problems,” Carlson said. “So in Afghanistan, for example, they’re using the HUMVEE and some small, UTV-type vehicles, but really neither of them was filling the gap that they had there. HUMVEEs were too big to go on the smaller trails and the UTVs couldn’t carry enough payload, so this was a science and technology initiative with Special Operations Command, and it developed a series of these vehicles to deploy overseas to support the American war fighter.”

Instead of developing an entirely new vehicle from the ground up, the military, at times, will look for most cost-effective solutions with vehicles already in production for the civilian market. These COTS, or Commercial Off-The-Shelf, vehicles can provide a cost-effective way to fulfill military needs without needing to break the bank to develop an entirely new platform.

Inside, some Jeep JK elements are still visible, but the interior is purpose built for military needs..

“Actually in Afghanistan over the last 10 years a lot of COTS technology has been deployed there because the commercial sector moves pretty quickly, pretty cost effectively, and the military is able to go, ‘OK, that’s what I want, go get me one of those,’” Carlson said. “This [COMMANDO] was specifically [designed] to be able to solve some problems, and we needed a robust platform to be able to carry some advanced technology on board overseas for development.”

The Hendrick COMMANDO is designed to have a wide range of applications depending upon the job it's needed for that day.

Heavy-duty tie-down locations are found all over the Jeep, though none are larger than the two up front that are integrated into the frame.

The modern JK Wrangler was an ideal platform for Hendrick Dynamics to use to create a vehicle that fills the gap between the large HUMVEE and the smaller UTVs currently used by our military, and Carlson noted that Jeep has not veered away from its history and was a willing partner in helping to develop the COMMANDO.

“First off, Jeep was a big partner in it with us; they really do take their support of the military and their heritage seriously, so when we reached out to them that we needed diesel-engine Jeeps here in the US they made that possible out of Toledo, Ohio,” Carlson said. “It’s kind of wild – it’s the same factory that was building military Jeep starting back in 1941, that same place is putting out military Jeeps for that program, which is pretty neat, so Jeep was a big help.”

This setup provides the Jeep with a 1000-mile range with its spare tire and six fuel jugs on back.

The COMMANDO runs on the 2.8-liter CRD diesel engine used in Jeeps overseas (the same one found in the Wrangler Africa concept, http://www.off-road.com/blog/2015/04/01/is-the-africa-concept-a-glimpse-into-the-future-of-the-jeep-wrangler/). The Hendrick Dynamics teams re-specced the powerplant for military application.

“It’s a great little engine,” Carlson said. “That engine makes more horsepower than the modern HUMVEE engine and has better fuel efficiency, and we did a recalibration on it. JP8 is military jet fuel, and that’s what all military ground vehicles have to run off, and so this vehicle is rated to run off of JP8.”

The vehicle relies on the Wrangler’s stock 22-gallon fuel tank, but when properly equipped with fuel jugs the diesel-powered Hendrick COMMANDO can have a 1000-mile range. Although this military vehicle is based on the same JK platform used as daily drivers and weekend trail rigs, it does feature some unique modifications for adapting to the military’s use and needs.

The Hedrick COMMANDO features two tie-down locations on either side of the cabin that are integrated into the roll cage, or Roll Over Protection System (ROPS). These tie down locations features a 7,500-pound rating, which is so high in part because of the vehicles needing to withstand the G forces of military planes while in transit.

“Probably the big differentiators are the vehicle is capable of being carried inside a helicopter, which has a real high G-load requirement, and also, as you can imagine, it has packaging constraints,” Carlson said. “You can see the tie-down system around the perimeter of the vehicle. It has to take multiple Gs to be able to fly inside the aircraft. The ROPS, or Roll Over Protection Structure, is second to none. You can see where the rollover [unit] goes into the tie-down. You could literally at any point grab onto the cage and support the entire weight of the vehicle. So [we are] taking a commercial vehicle frame that wasn’t designed for this type of load and then doing smart mods on it so it can pass the tie-down and lift certification.”

Other unique features on the Hendrick COMMANDO can be found at the front and rear of the vehicle, where an interchangeable system was developed to carry different loads and can adjust to any given situation.

“The way that their science and technology project works is that they embed some of their operators to try to guide the development of the projects, so one of the things that one of the guys told us is that they are constantly having their missions change, so on one moment they may be providing support for the local community, rebuilding a medical clinic or something, and the next minute they need to support some sort of offensive mission, so being able to change out the vehicle kind of like a versatile platform,” Carlson said. “So we created this fairly simple technology called vertex, which are these upward facing connectors on the front and rear of the vehicle.”

The mounts look like trailer hitches, though they are uniform in design and specification so every different piece will easily mount on the vehicles.

“They are all templated so they are located precisely in space across all of the vehicles, so this system provides a very strong and secure connection point, and it’s uniform across all of the vehicles,” Carlson said.

The rear rack fitted on the Hendrick COMMANDO can be swapped out during offensive mission for artillery or a rack system to carry lumber and construction parts during a reconstruction mission.

The rack fitted on the vehicle at the Smittybilt display at Easter Jeep Safari, for instance, features six 5-gallon fuel cans and a spare tire, and not only does this rack help provide that 1,000-mile range, it also does so without taking away any usable space in the cabin.

“It’s a really great success story, the vehicle has performed flawlessly with no issues at all,” Carlson said. “Really good feedback. It started with [the military] really reaching out to industry to solve a problem that traditional defense contractors weren’t able to figure out.”

The Hendrick COMMANDO tactical vehicle adds to the Wrangler’s storied legacy by filling the military’s needs by using the current JK platform that’s in production for everyday highway use. The coolest part about the vehicle is that Hendrick Dynamics was able to team up with Dealer Services International to produce a COMMANDO Jeep Wrangler concept based on the same basic design, meaning it’s possible one day we could buy this cool replica vehicle. The exchange of ideas between the military and civilian vehicle market will likely always exist, and it’s great to see the current Wrangler is tough enough to serve our military’s needs.

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