Next time the phone rings at the Bloomington, MN Bomb Squad, responding officers will arrive at the scene with an ominous-looking new tool in tow. The TAC-CAT, or Tactical Caterpillar, has been in the police inventory for about a year, and the team has been training with it extensively.
TAC-CAT is a special-purpose response vehicle, built over a Caterpillar Model 257B Multi-Terrain Loader. It is so well armored that it can be used by EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) personnel, as well as S.W.A.T. team members, in some very hazardous environments. The TAC-CAT is at its best when it’s protecting a bomb technician who is moving a suspicious package, but it can also quickly take down a wall or even an entire building.
Tactical teams and EOD units have been using robotic devices for years, but most of those are small, and are made to be remotely operated by an officer safely under cover. While these small machines have built a successful deployment record, sometimes that’s just not enough. Sometimes the mission would be safer and easier to complete if the operator were actually on-board, operating the vehicle from within. That’s where the TAC-CAT comes in.
The TAC-CAT is a blast-resistant machine, and the operator’s cab is heavily armored. Depending on a department’s budget, the unit is available in armor meeting either NIJ Level III or Level IV standards. In its heaviest configuration (Level IV) the TAC-CAT can withstand high powered, high velocity, military armor-piercing and incendiary rounds in calibers up to 7.62 x 54 from an SVD Dragunov (20-inch barrel).
Slow And Steady Wins
Its top speed is 7 mph so it’s trailered to where it’s needed, along with all its tools and accessories, which are manufactured by EZ Spot UR of West Fargo, ND. EZ Spot UR specializes in building the hydraulic claws and other gripping tools used in the logging industry for rock and tree handling, so they have a lot of experience building things that are used to move and break other things.
The vehicle can be equipped with several different claws that are mounted on a “boom” that can extend out to 18 feet. The claws can also function as a ram when in the closed position. Because there is a video camera mounted on the claw, once it’s punched through the wall of a building, the operator can use it to see. The claw can be used to insert tear gas or smoke into the room.
There are two LE agencies using the TAC-CAT in the field. They are the Bloomington, MN PD and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Dept. in CA. Both have the unit assigned to their EOD team, but they also use it on S.W.A.T. call outs, and it’s available for other special-duty assignments.
Officers agree that the units are solidly and professionally built, and are very reliable. San Bernardino County Sheriff was the first agency to get one, and they’ve mainly used it on S.W.A.T. calls. One of their most successful deployments involved using the TAC-CAT to pick up a small EOD robot and insert it into a location through a window.
The TAC-CAT has space for the operator inside. There are optional side platforms that are shielded, so that two officers can ride on the outside, protected from fire. Inside, the unit functions much like the Caterpillar underneath. In talking with Bloomington’s EOD, they expressed that someone who has worked with heavy construction equipment would be right at home in the TAC-CAT.
Training & Tactics
Being a tracked vehicle, it can turn around in its own footprint. All members of the EOD team are trained in how to operate the TAC-CAT. If S.W.A.T. needs the unit, EOD technicians respond with the unit on its trailer, and operate it at the scene.
Officers felt that some training was necessary. To that end, Bloomington EOD resourcefully teamed up with their local Caterpillar dealer for training and maintenance. When specific, technical information regarding LE modifications are made to the unit is needed, the makers of the TAC-CAT PDIC are called in.
Because of the armor configuration, the operator’s visibility is somewhat less. When the unit is in action, video cameras are mounted on the claw, and at different locations on the outside of the armored cab. Each camera feeds into monitors inside the cab, and there is a digital video recorder. Images can be reviewed during mission debriefings. An option is for the video image to be transmitted to the incident command post. Commanders and other team members can then monitor the action in real time. Cameras are IR capable.
The TAC-CAT can punch through a wall or penetrate fences. The claw makes quick work of just about any wall, door or other barrier that suspects use for cover. Narcotics teams can use the unit’s claw for pulling armored doors off drug houses, and individuals can be rescued with the TAC-CAT providing cover for officers and paramedics.
Dan Murphy, the Homeland Security Coordinator for Bloomington said “You’re really only limited by your imagination.”
PDIC specializes in up-armoring vehicles for dignitary protection, as well as the TAC-CAT. Using lighter composite armor for those vehicles, the TAC-CAT gets its protection from ballistic steel.
LE Agency Custom Options
Lead time from order to completion is about 90 days. Considerable customization is possible. Naturally, teams will also make their own modifications.
The TAC-CAT provides EOD technicians and S.W.A.T. operators with another tool for dealing with bad guys as safely as possible. It’s a useful addition to the arsenal. Visit: armor-pdi.com.