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The “Swiss Army knife” of Special Ops vehicles

A look back at the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command/Delta Steyr Pinzgauer, 1988-2008

By Alan Wise

In the late 1980s, the US Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment- Delta (SFOD-D; “Delta”) was seeking a new special operations vehicle. They selected the Austrian Steyr Pinzgauer 718M 6x6 Utility Vehicle. After modifying and customizing the “Gauers,” Delta rapidly put them to use. This 1st Special Operations Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D) Delta Pinzgauer was part of Task Force 20 (TF20) tasked with capturing Western Iraq in the invasion. TF20 included Delta and other units.

In the late 1980s, the US Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment- Delta (SFOD-D; “Delta”) was seeking a new special operations vehicle. They selected the Austrian Steyr Pinzgauer 718M 6x6 Utility Vehicle. After modifying and customizing the “Gauers,” Delta rapidly put them to use. This 1st Special Operations Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D) Delta Pinzgauer was part of Task Force 20 (TF20) tasked with capturing Western Iraq in the invasion. TF20 included Delta and other units.

The failed 1980 Iranian hostage rescue mission — Operation Eagle Claw — resulted in a major expansion of US Special Operations capabilities throughout the 1980s. This also grew to include counter-terrorism operations with great leaps in world-wide reach and effectiveness. A large part of the expansion was the acquisition of unique equipment and the subsequent modifications of each to fit the wide array of possible missions.

Equally important was maintaining secrecy so as not to expose these new vital capabilities to potential adversaries. The newly formed Joint Special Operations Command of the Defense Department initially even classified the names of its five units.

Delta had a requirement for a vehicle with extreme off-road capability, exceptional reliability, large cargo capacity, and the ability to be quickly reconfigured for a number of different missions including tactical (armed), cargo, ambulance, command (communications), search and rescue, and very long range reconnaissance. Ultimately, it adopted the Steyr Pinzgauer 718M to fulfill the role and they were quickly put into use. The British 22nd Special Air Service (SAS) and New Zealand SAS Regiments also used Pinzgauers.

Delta had a requirement for a vehicle with extreme off-road capability, exceptional reliability, large cargo capacity, and the ability to be quickly reconfigured for a number of different missions including tactical (armed), cargo, ambulance, command (communications), search and rescue, and very long range reconnaissance. Ultimately, it adopted the Steyr Pinzgauer 718M to fulfill the role and they were quickly put into use. The British 22nd Special Air Service (SAS) and New Zealand SAS Regiments also used Pinzgauers.

One of these units is the 1st Special Operations Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D) also know as the Unit, Combat Applications Group (CAG), Delta Force, or simply, “Delta.” Its primary missions are hostage rescue and counter-terrorism operations although it routinely performs VIP protection and long range surveillance missions. Its area of operations (AO) is anywhere in the world.

VEHICLE MISSION Requirements

To fulfill these missions, Delta had a requirement for a vehicle with extreme off-road capability, exceptional reliability, large cargo capacity, and the ability to be quickly reconfigured for a number of different missions including tactical (armed), cargo, ambulance, command (communications), search and rescue, and very long range reconnaissance. Lastly, it had to be transportable inside either the MH-47 Chinook or the MH-53 Pave Low helicopters for covert, night time deployments.

Extra fuel and water for long rang operations as carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan. M2HB mounted in the turret for long range protection.

Extra fuel and water for long rang operations as carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan. M2HB mounted in the turret for long range protection.

In 1988, Delta acquired its first Steyr Pinzgauer Trucks, and thus began a very successful, 20-year relationship. The Austrian-built Pinzgauers are world-renowned as one of the very finest off-road vehicles ever built.

Initially, some were the 4x4 716M model while others were the longer 6x6 718M version. Evaluations and training began immediately, conducted at remote off-road areas in Utah.

The 6x6 718M was soon chosen for its abilities and capacity. With its 6-cylinder diesel engine, heavy-duty automatic transmission, six wheel drive, locking differentials, high ground clearance, dual caliper brakes, and well protected undercarriage, the “Gauer,” as it was nicknamed, performed exceptionally well and was favored by the Delta operators.

As Delta’s new SOV, the Pinzgauers were used for fire support and long-range reconnaissance. Armament included a M240B Medium Machine Gun mounted in the rear, above the spare tire.

As Delta’s new SOV, the Pinzgauers were used for fire support and long-range reconnaissance. Armament included a M240B Medium Machine Gun mounted in the rear, above the spare tire.

Delta-1718-Modsfixed

Specific Delta Modifications

Over time, more than 40 modifications evolved. One of the first was increasing the 718’s cargo capacity — eventually up to 7,000lbs — by changing the suspension and wheels. Other modifications included night vision infrared lighting, on board air compressor, combat run-flat wheels, heavy weapons turret ring, front and rear weapon mounts, winch, tow bar, protective wire hook, heavy duty dashboard for mounting gear, and mounts for radio antennas and satellite communications (SATCOM). Various radios and satellite communication systems were used as well as electronic counter-measure (signal jamming )gear.

Multi-barreled smoke grenade launchers as used on armored vehicles were installed to offer counter-ambush protection by rapidly creating a smoke screen for escape. 16 multi-function mounts were added to the sides to carry additional fuel or water cans as well as backpacks. Pioneer tools and two traction ramps were also attached to the sides.

A major Delta mission was the assaulting of a hijacked airliner anywhere in the world. This required covert insertion and the employment of the Elevated Tactics System. This adjustable raised platform system attached easily to the Pinzgauer and permitted an assault team to approach an airliner unseen from the rear and instantly enter the aircraft at the proper elevation.

Unlike the US Military’s standard tactical vehicle, the HMMWV, the Pinzgauer 718 is just narrow enough to fit inside both the MH-47 Chinook and MH-53 Pave Low helicopters — a major requirement for conducting covert insertions deep inside enemy territory. With the loading ramp in the open level position, two could be carried inside the MH-47s. Backed in for insertion and forward for exfiltration (exiting) for speed. Additionally, while only two feet longer than the 4x4 HMMWV, the modified 718’s cargo capacity is 7,000 lbs compared to only 2,500lbs for the HMMWV.

Carry ramps were often fitted to the rear in the 718Ms for the Honda dirt bikes favored by Delta for area recon and scouting, either the XR-250R or XR-350R. Pinzgauers were fitted with six T-bars made of square steel stock welded in the shape of the letter “T.” Three could be mounted on each side by sliding into the square sockets welded to the Gauer. These were used to sling rucksacks — the carrying straps of the ruck were slung over the horizontal cross member of the T-bar. As one Delta Operator explained, “When it was time to Rally Over Night (RON), or Rally Over Day (ROD) and catch some sleep, some of us liked to turn the T-bars sideways and sling a hammock from bar to bar and sleep that way. It kept us off the ground and a hammock is actually quite comfortable.”

The Delta Gauer ran on 8-ply tires mounted on heavy duty wheels with run flat inserts.

The Delta Gauer ran on 8-ply tires mounted on heavy duty wheels with run flat inserts.

Equipment on the Delta 718M included a pioneer tool rack, infrared lights, and a front-mounted winch. Bumper tubes mounted camo net poles used to spread out the camouflage netting for hiding in the desert.

Equipment on the Delta 718M included a pioneer tool rack, infrared lights, and a front-mounted winch. Bumper tubes mounted camo net poles used to spread out the camouflage netting for hiding in the desert.

Folded liter was standard as was swing out spare tire.

Folded liter was standard as was swing out spare tire.

RETIRED FROM SERVICE

In 2008, the US Air Force retired the MH-53 after many years of service. As a result — and after 20 years of extreme mission capability — the Pingauers were retired, as well. The three separate vehicles that replaced the ‘Gauers remain classified at this time. 

Doors, top, windshield and cargo hoops were all attached with aircraft grade quick release pull pins and attached with safety wire to allow configuring vehicles missions quickly and without tools. The turret Ring lowers for transport.

Doors, top, windshield and cargo hoops were all attached with aircraft grade quick release pull pins and attached with safety wire to allow configuring vehicles missions quickly and without tools. The turret Ring lowers for transport.

Mounted Hi Lift Jack, AT4 anti-armor rocket, camo netting and mounted packs were common.

Mounted Hi Lift Jack, AT4 anti-armor rocket, camo netting and mounted packs were common.

SATCOM and other modern military radios were mounted for ground and ground-to-air communications.

SATCOM and other modern military radios were mounted for ground and ground-to-air communications.

Ditching Ramps were carried and hung on the sides. These aluminum ramps were handy in soft sand and crossing small ditches. Satcom antenna can be seen on top. Delta continued to use the specially modified 718s for 20 years in the First and Second Gulf Wars as well as in Afghanistan. Delta retired the versatile trucks from service in 2008. Their replacements remained classified.

Ditching Ramps were carried and hung on the sides. These aluminum ramps were handy in soft sand and crossing small ditches. Satcom antenna can be seen on top. Delta continued to use the specially modified 718s for 20 years in the First and Second Gulf Wars as well as in Afghanistan. Delta retired the versatile trucks from service in 2008. Their replacements remained classified.

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