Wheeled Armored Personnel Carrier – At Least 136 Built + 1 Prototype
Information on the vehicles produced by Qatari manufacturer Stark Motors is a bit shady, as is information on the company itself. As of early 2022, and since its foundation in 2017, it has introduced a total of four armored vehicle models to the international armored vehicles market, including the lightly armored Toyota-based Storm, but all models have failed to gain much interest. Instead, the vehicles seem to mainly be used as a diplomatic tool, and batches of vehicles have been donated to several countries in Africa and the Middle East by the Qatari government to improve diplomatic relations. As of May 2021, the Storm is believed to be in use in at least five countries.
The Stark Motors company was founded in May 2017 and is part of the Eshhar Holding, specifically the Eshhar Security Services Department. The director of Eshhar, Mohamad al-Ali, is also the chairman of Stark Motors. Eshhar itself seems to be owned by Abdul Hadi Mana Al-Hajri, a billionaire and brother-in-law of Sheikh Tamim al-Thani. Apart from building military armored vehicles, the company also armors luxury vehicles aimed at the civilian market. Armored vehicles were formerly a specialty of Eshhar Security Services, as this option is listed on an archived version on their website from October 2015, but this department was moved to Stark Motors.
Vehicles built by Stark Motors and in service in Qatar have the name ‘Barzan’ embedded on their bodywork. There may be a relation with Barzan Holdings, which is responsible for “empowering the military capabilities of the Qatari Armed Forces.” This holding, owned by the Qatari Armed Forces Technical Committee, also has a 49.9% share in the Turkish company BMC, which also manufactures armored vehicles.
With the establishment of a domestic light armored vehicle producer, and their vehicles mainly based on Toyota chassis (and parts), Qatar followed the trend of various new armored vehicle producers in the area, with examples being the Streit Group and Minerva Special Purpose Vehicles (MSPV) from the United Arab Emirates, and the Engine Engineering Company LLC from Oman. Since its establishment, the armored vehicles produced by Stark Motors have mostly been used by the Qatari government as a powerful relationship-building tool, by donating batches of vehicles to various countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa in attempts to improve diplomatic relations. In this way, donations have been made to Burkina Faso, Jordan, Mali, Somalia, and the Government of National Accord in Libya.
The Storm has a conventional design and uses the common Toyota Land Cruiser Series 79 pickup truck as a base. The vehicle is powered by a Toyota 4.5L V8 Turbo Diesel which is able to produce 195 hp. Power is transferred via a five-speed manual transmission, although an automatic transmission is provided as an option. The vehicle has a four-wheel drive and the wheels are equipped with 285/75 R18 MAXXIS Off-Road tires. Fuel is stored in two 90 liter tanks.
The driver is sat on the left, and the commander to the right. Behind them, a weapon station is installed on the roof which can be equipped with any kind of light to heavy machine gun. The troop compartment has foldable seats running down the sides. Above the seats, square vision blocks with bulletproof glass are installed. Centrally mounted in these blocks are round firing ports that can be opened by the troops from within by turning a fastening bolt. The troops can enter the vehicle from the rear where either a large door or a double door, is installed. Depending on this configuration, either one or two vision blocks are installed in this door as well.
The Storm is equipped with armor leveled at full CEN B6. This means the armor is thick enough to protect against high-powered 7.62 mm rifles but too weak to be able to withstand Armor Piercing bullets or 12.7 mm fire. The floor is able to withstand an explosion from 2 DM51 German ordnance hand grenades.
The bulletproof glass is rated at CEN BR6, providing enough protection against 7.62×51mm NATO full metal jacket, pointed bullet, or soft core bullets.
The First User: Qatar
According to the Stark Motors manager, the first series of vehicles was delivered to ‘a local institution’ in Qatar, the number of which is undisclosed. During later military parades, at least six regular vehicles were observed, as well as two in use as ambulances. They are operated by the Qatari Amiri Guard (الحرس الأميري), an elite military protection unit within the Qatari Army, entrusted with protecting the Emir and the Royal Family of Qatar, among other tasks. Although just eight different vehicles have been observed, the Guard may have more Storms in operation. As of 2018, they were seen featuring a registration number placed on the roof above the front window. Prior to that, they had just a single-digit number. Two registrations have been identified, namely 8876 and 8879. One of the ambulances has been registered as 7788. As noted earlier, they also carry the name ‘Barzan’ on their bodywork.
It is possible that other Qatari institutions like the Police and Internal Security Force operate Storms as well, but clear details are unfortunately lacking.
They replaced older APCs which had been acquired from the Chinese company China Xinxing Xiamen Imp & Exp Co., Ltd. Later, 68 of these, potentially the whole fleet, were donated to Somalia. Confusinglyl, they were also referred to as Stark Motors Storm.
It seems that already in 2017, an international order was secured for six Storm vehicles, to be delivered to the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cambodia. These vehicles, initially painted white, were later transferred to the BHQ (Bodyguard Headquarters), the personal bodyguard unit of the Prime Minister of Cambodia. Unlike other armored vehicles of the BHQ, such as the BMP-1s and T-55AM1s, the Storms were not painted in a camouflage pattern but painted matte black. However, in June 2021, at least one was observed after having been repainted in a gloss green.
All six vehicles feature a weapon station on top of the vehicle. The weapon stations have a large forward gunshield with an opening for a weapon and angled plates. The hatches open sideways, providing more protection to the gunner.
Donations to the Sahel
In June 2017, Qatar became isolated from much of Africa and the Middle East. In that month, a consortium of geographically close countries severed diplomatic relations with Qatar over its relations with Iran and their alleged support for terrorist organizations. A variety of African countries followed suit and recalled their ambassadors from Qatar, including Mauritania, Chad, and Niger, among others.
This sudden breakdown in diplomatic relations with African countries caused the Qatari government to look with renewed interest into establishing close ties with African countries since most of them had often been ignored in the pre-2017 diplomatic policy. Among other ventures and even visits to West Africa by the Emir himself, many African delegates were invited to visit the military Milipol Exhibition in Doha, Qatar, held in October 2018. This event was largely sponsored by Stark Motors.
Qatar also tried to gain closer ties with the G5 Sahel, an institution that was formed in 2014 with backing from France, and which consisted of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. In February 2017, the G5 launched the G5 Sahel Joint Force to combat local terrorist groups. When Qatar asked to support the G5 Sahel, their offer was turned down at first. Various commenters accused Qatar of covering up their ties with terrorist groups that were combating the Sahel, by pretending they supported the Sahel by gifting armored vehicles. According to various sources, among support to other terrorist groups, Qatar had links to Iyad Agha Ghali, leader of the Victory of Islam and Muslims Group that claimed several attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso.
Given the repeated intelligence that Qatar supported terrorist groups against the G5 Sahel, Qatar decided to make a strong statement that would show, or at least pretend to show, its support for the suffering countries. Eventually, it was successful in its attempts when the G5 Sahel agreed to receive support from Qatar.
On 26th December 2018, Boeing C-17 Globemaster IIIs of the Qatar Emiri Air Force landed in Mali. Onboard were 24 Storms, all of which were donated to aid the Armed Forces of Mali in their attempts to counter the jihadist militants and terrorist groups. Some were paraded through the city of Kati on 20th January, during the Army’s Celebration Day.
Their quality was quickly questioned when on 12th March 2019, during a patrolling mission, a Storm drove over a mine and blew up near Dialup, northern Mali. Three soldiers on board were killed in the explosion. On 14th February 2020, during an action in the village of Bentia, two Storms were destroyed, as well as a Toyota technical. In the immediate action, eight Malian soldiers were killed.
On 8th May 2019, a second delivery was made to Burkina Faso. Again, 24 vehicles were flown in and unloaded at the airport of Ouagadougou. In early October 2019, a Burkinese Storm was blown up by an IED in the vicinity of Djibo and Bourzanga. One soldier was killed by the blast and four others were wounded. In the aftermath, one attacker was also killed and an additional two IEDs were found and destroyed. On 29th February 2020, another Storm was captured by ISGS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, linked to ISIS), reducing the Burkinese Storm fleet to 22.
Storms to Somalia?
In February 2017, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo was elected the new president of impoverished and war-torn Somalia. His government developed close ties with Qatar, a state that promised support and improvements in Somalia. However, Qatari meddling in the local political affairs has been heavily criticized, as it undermined former efforts to return stability to the country. Ties between Somalia and other countries weakened severely. Furthermore, Qatar is a rival of the United Arab Emirates, which is also interested in power, and thus profit, in the Horn of Africa. This rivalry between the Gulf states of Qatar and the UAE is particularly prominent in Somalia. In January 2019, Qatar further consolidated its ties with the Somalian government by donating 68 armored vehicles.
On 17th January 2019, all 68 vehicles were unloaded in a Somalian port and officially handed over to Somalia. The Qatar Ministry of Defense stated that “the aid will help Somalia’s effort to establish peace and stability, and fight terrorism.” Though claimed to be the Storm, the vehicle looks very different to the commercial Storm model. The armor layout is much simpler in construction and the Toyota chassis appear to be second-hand.
Indeed, the vehicles were not Storms, but older APCs bought in China and used for an undisclosed time by Qatar. Despite their age and dubious effectiveness, the vehicles form a valuable contribution to the Somali armored fleet.
The Somalian vehicles feature large front windows, a cut out in the armor on the left side for a spare wheel, and three vision blocks in the side for the troops.
Deployment in Somalia
After the handover, Somali troops installed 12.7 mm heavy machine guns in the turrets. Since then, the vehicles have been actively deployed against Al-Shabab, with varying levels of success. Al-Shabab is a jihadist terrorist group that operates in East Africa and Yemen. They are particularly active in Somalia. On 12th April 2021, Al-Shabab publicly announced the capture of a Storm. It is unknown if Al-Shabab has captured or damaged more of these vehicles.
In August 2021, Al-Shabab attacked a military base in central Somalia and forced the government troops to retreat. Reports surfaced that Al-Shabab had managed to capture 11 armored vehicles, and destroyed another nine, but whether this is accurate or if any of these APCs were among them, is unknown.
Another Donation to Jordan
On 7th April 2020, Jordan took delivery of eight armored vehicles, the first batch to arrive of 44 vehicles donated by Qatar. The 44 vehicles consisted of a mixture of Nomad and Thunder MRAPs, as well as Storms. On 18th May, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Hussein Bin Abdullah II visited the Hussein Bin Ali 30th Special Mission Brigade, a unit of the Jordan Royal Guard. Also shown to them were at least six new Storm APCs that were attached to the Brigade.
It is possible that Jordan will acquire more armored vehicles from Qatar in the future. On 18th November 2020, the chairman of the chiefs of staff, Major General Yousef Huneiti, met with a Qatari military delegation that represented Stark Motors. Reportedly, joint cooperation was discussed between the armies of Qatar and Jordan.
Confusion with the Aurum Security A200
On 2nd July 2019, the Peruvian Purchasing Agency of the Armed Forces (ACFFAA) placed an international tender for the acquisition of eight 4×4 armored vehicles for use by the Batallón de Reconocimiento y Combate (Eng: Reconnaissance and Combat Battalion) in the so-called VRAEM region (Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers). Narco-terrorist groups operate in this area of Peru. The tender was closed on 15th July. On 6th August 2019, the military news website defensa.com announced that the German company Aurum Security GmbH had been awarded the contract on 1st August. The article was illustrated with a photograph of a Stark Motors Storm. It is unclear whether defensa.com published a picture provided to them by either Aurum or the ACFFAA, or if they took the liberty to find a similar vehicle and use that as a temporary illustration for the article. In the case of the former, it would be another shady action in the deal that is surrounded by controversy. In case of the latter, it would set a trend that images of the Storm were used repeatedly when referring to the armored vehicles by Aurum, until the actual vehicles were built and delivered in 2021.
An article, published by infodefensa.com on 12th August 2019, actually got it semi-right, as they published a render of Aurum’s “APC 79”. The APC 79 was the only military armored vehicle offered by Aurum and already designed in 2014, but a prototype had never been built. The vehicle that was ordered by Peru, the A200, could be considered a modified version of this design. However, even after the first photographs of the A200 were shared to the public, the Stark Motors Storm was still erroneously used when referring to the A200. Similarities between the Storm and the A200 may very well suggest that the A200 tried to imitate the Storm in some ways.
As of 2021, the Storm is in use in Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Jordan, Mali, and Qatar, while a whole different vehicle is in use by Somalia, but often purported to be a Storm. The vehicles have a very limited combat value, proven by the complete destruction of one vehicle in Burkina Faso by an IED, but are valuable in areas without much violence. The Storm is not a very unique vehicle nor is it particularly innovative. However, being based on a Toyota 79 series chassis is an advantage for many African and Middle Eastern militaries, as spare parts should be easily available and relatively cheap, due to the large deployment of regular Toyotas in those areas. It is possible that the Storm will be donated to or adopted by other countries in the near future.
|Total Weight, Battle Ready||N/A|
|Crew||2 (driver and commander)|
|Troop Capacity||8 (6+2) standard, 10 (8+2) optional|
|Chassis||Toyota Land Cruiser 79 Series, Pick Up|
|Propulsion||Toyota 4.5L V8 turbo diesel, 195hp, 4 x 4|
|Suspension||Front: coil springs, shock absorbers, trailing arms; Rear: leaf springs, shock absorbers|
|Transmission||5-speed manual (automatic optional)|
|Armament||1 weapon station (optional), firing ports|
|Armor||CEN B6 full (bulletproof glass CEN BR6)|
|Total Production||At least 136 + 1 prototype|
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