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Obama’s High-Tech Defenses: Bullet-Resistant Suit, Tank-Like Limo, and One Huge Gun

What kind of high-tech precautions were taken on inauguration day? Advanced ballistics fabrics, a truck-limo hybrid with bunker-like doors, and a trailing machine gun vehicle were among the latest defenses issued the President, in the face of at least one potential terrorist threat-alert issued to local and federal police, as reported by the AP.

What kind of high-tech precautions were taken on inauguration day? Advanced ballistics fabrics, a truck-limo hybrid with bunker-like doors, and a trailing machine gun vehicle were among the latest defenses issued the President, in the face of at least one potential terrorist threat-alert issued to local and federal police, as reported by the AP.

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The President’s primary layer of defense was sheer manpower: 12,500 active and reserve troops patrolled downtown Washington, DC, alongside heavily-armed police officers numbering in the thousands from DC’s Metropolitan police squad and surrounding auxiliary units. Secret Service SWAT teams were also on patrol; to date, the Secret Service employs about 3,500 agents.

The Department of Homeland Security rated the inauguration as a “national special security event,” requiring the military to patrol the Potomac with gun-boats, criss-cross the skies with air patrols, and keep surface-to-air weapons at the ready.

Besides his city-wide security detail, President Obama relied on two primary defenses during his inauguration day. The first was a bullet-resistant suit, possibly augmented by an ultra-thin bullet-resistant vest, made by a “high-security fashion” company called Miguel Caballero.

The Colombian company makes fashion clothing in three levels of bullet-resistance, the lowest of which can protect against a 9mm pistol and the highest of which can take a shot from a Mini Uzi or MP5 submachine gun. The Secret Service hasn’t disclosed which of Obama’s garments were bullet-resistant, but with Miguel Caballero making everything from bullet-resistant leather jackets to bullet-resistant tuxedo shirts, it could have been any or all of his suit and overcoat.

Cadillac Limo

Obama’s second line of defense was his motorcade, which featured a brand-new hybrid security limousine made by Cadillac. Seen here in testing spy-shots, the new limo is a melange of truck and car parts, most likely based on GM’s Topkick light-duty truck platform. Starting from the bottom up, the presidential limo has Goodyear’s Regional RHS tires mounted on 19.5-inch wheels. The tires were probably picked for their heavy-duty weight bearing ratings and ability to run flat, with zero air pressure.

Weight-bearing they will need to be, because under the hood likely lies a monstrous diesel V8 DuraMax engine and drivetrain, and the doors are bomb-rated at about eight — yes, 8 — inches thick. As the Times has reported, it’s impossible to know the exact specs of the limo, since neither GM nor the Secret Service will discuss them. But that newspaper also hypothesizes that the new limo’s windows would need to be at least 1.5 inches thick to stop a high-velocity bullet from a military assault rifle.

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Bill Clinton is said to have had at least five decoy models of the presidential limo accompany him to Pakistan in March of 2000. His presidential vehicle was a modified Cadillac Fleetwood, model year 1993. One of the limos is now on display at his presidential library in Little Rock, AR, where it is kept locked; the library staff cannot access the interior of the car without contacting the local Secret Service bureau, for security reasons. Decommissioned cars are destroyed on highly secure federal property, or buried at sea.

Behind Barack’s supercar were vans loaded with SWAT teams, mobile broadband communications equipment, and even electro-magnetic devices capable of disabling the detonators on home-made bombs, according to the McClatchy-Tribune news wire. There were also devices constantly monitoring the air for chemical and biological agents.

The new president’s final and most desperate line of defense may be another vehicle in his convoy: a Chevrolet Suburban equipped with a pop-up machine gun nest capable of firing large-caliber bullets at a rate of 4,000 rounds per second. Check out a video demonstration of the vehicle in action below, which is rumored to have gone into service during George W. Bush’s presidency. Let’s hope this thing never needs to come out of its shell.

[Photo Credit: Chris Doane/Brenda Priddy & Company]

About the author

I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs.

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