The Presidential Motorcade Has A New Mysterious And Sinister Looking Vehicle

The Presidential Motorcade, like Air Force One, is a symbol of American might and the center of great attention, both positive and negative, wherever it hits the streets. Two years ago we published the definitive guide to this rolling armada, and although vehicle model types get updated on a rotating basis and a new antenna appears here or there, it has largely stayed the same. At least until this week, when a new, intimidating looking vehicle showed up at the tail-end of the high profile procession.

The mysterious new vehicle in question is hardier looking than its peers, with a Ford F350 Super Duty six-door conversion truck acting as a base platform. But the hulking customized truck isn’t what’s likely to grab people’s attention the most. It’s the big, gloss black, bubble-like enclosure on top of the vehicle that’s most conspicuous. 

You can see this new truck speeding to keep up with the motorcade as the column hauls its way towards to Capitol yesterday:

Luckily, White House bureau chief for Dallas Morning News, Todd Gillman, was able to snap a close-up pic of the truck when President Trump was at Trump International Hotel, and you can see how the vehicle is nearly impossible to miss. 

Steve’s tweet started an interesting thread of speculation as to what this vehicle is for and what the dome does on top of it. Everything from 360 high-resolution imaging systems to lasers were mentioned. And quite honestly, most of the suggestions were not so far-fetched. Solid-state lasers and the systems used to target them are going to become a necessity in the years to come when it comes to VVIP protection, something I have been talking about for years. Combined with electronic countermeasures, these systems will be essential when it comes to protecting high-valued targets from hobby-like drone attacks.

Spherical continuous imaging systems paired with facial recognition software is like the wide-area aerial surveillance of the land domain and it’s going to be an emerging capability in the future. Albeit, in this case, taking up a rear position while wielding such a system doesn’t make much sense. 

The answer as to this new vehicle’s purpose seems to be fairly clear to me, but it’s much less exotic than the aforementioned suggestions. 

There are a number of companies that offer six door conversions for trucks. They aren’t cheap, but adding extra space for equipment techs, as well as extra hardware, is probably a highly valued for this mission.,

It looks like the White House Communications Agency and the Secret Service have received a new and much improved “Roadrunner.” Roadrunner has one of the most critical jobs in the entire motorcade, keeping the President and their entire support apparatus connected to the outside world while barreling through concrete canyons and crowded highways. As such, it also has a critical command and control function to play.

In decades past, this capability mainly included secure voice communications and coordination services for key personnel, but today it is far more complicated than that, with the internet and streaming services being a critical tool for everyone to have at their fingertips. With this in mind, Roadrunner is constantly on the run developmentally speaking. It has to adapt to changing times and technologies—incorporating new systems while decommissioning old ones—all the while still maintaining constant and reliable service for the President’s daily travels. It is a very complicated and high stakes proposition, to say the least. 

In my The Fascinating Anatomy Of The Presidential Motorcade feature, I described Roadrunner as such:

“Roadrunner, also known as the Mobile Command and Control Vehicle, is one of the most conspicuous vehicles in Motorcade. A beefed-up Suburban, it houses a large satellite communications array and posts an antenna farm along its roof-line.

This vehicle keeps the President and White House officials securely connected to the world, providing encrypted voice, internet and video communications via the Pentagon’s constellation of hardened communications satellites. This vehicle may also be able to handle communications for nuclear arms release.

Roadrunner also helps facilitate secure communications within the Motorcade itself. Think of it as a big rolling data encryption center, wifi hotspot, radio repeater and doomsday communications control center.”

So beyond providing what is akin to a highly-secure rolling router and making sure the President can order a nuclear strike from The Beast at any given time, the White House Communications Agency and the Secret Service have to work directly with the USAF and USMC to keep all of the President’s aircraft up to the latest standard as well. In fact, Air Force One just went through a similar satellite communications upgrade that brings far higher bandwidth and networking capabilities to the flying White House. 

This upgrade was part of a move to migrate away from the old Milstar, Satellite Communications System Phase III, and some UHF satellite communications networks and onto Advanced Extremely High-Frequency network and the Global Wideband network, both of which are becoming the DoD’s go-to space-based communications gateways. It’s not hard to imagine that the newest and baddest of the Roadrunner family brings the same communications advances to the ground-mobile environment. 

Similar White House communications and command and control capability improvements have been underway in recent years, including what by almost all accounts was the construction of a new emergency operations bunker under the White House lawn off the West Wing. 

On-the-move satcoms are pretty amazing to watch in action without their domes. They can take a beating and still keep aligned with satellites above:

These large, vehicular based ‘on-the-move’ satcom systems are not necessarily new either. Derived from maritime systems, other federal government agencies, the military, and state governments also field similar systems. For instance, Nevada’s Division of Emergency Management fields a small fleet of vehicles equipped with large satcom systems mounted on Chevy Suburbans that are capable of everything from receiving and sending television broadcasts, to providing internet networking, and phone service at remote locales. The U.S. military has been fielding similar capabilities for nearly a decade but has made seamless on-the-move networking a top priority in recent years. 

 Nevada State Government

In the past, Roadrunner was seen fitted with a GV2432 UHF satcom antenna, and more recently, a larger, cake-shaped array, along with other aerials. So it’s not hard to imagine that this new, albeit more noticeable system offers a huge leap in capacity. The photo taken by Steve Herman of the new vehicle also shows a UHF satellite communications antenna attached to the roof mounting system.

A previous Roadrunner on the move. This vehicle is a far more pedestrian affair compared to the new souped-up truck. , Paul Carter

Our best guess is that this new configuration is something akin to an adaptation of the General Dynamics Next Generation Point of Presence (POP) enhancement to the Warfighter Information Net-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 system. This system provides high capacity, hardened, secure, on-the-move satellite connectivity, and local area networking. The system is the backbone of the U.S. Army’s tactical communications roadmap and you can read all about it in detail here, with the POP vehicle’s most prominent feature being a Ku/Ka band satellite antenna system. 

General Dynamics
General Dynamics

The Presidential Motorcade’s newest member is likely to get some special media attention in the coming months as it heads away from Washington, D.C. on missions to places where the motorcade is far from a normal sight. In the meantime, it’s good to know that the President, their staff, and the Secret Service, has the ability to communicate better than ever before while on-the-move. 

Author’s Note: The vehicle was originally photographed by Todd Gillman and the photo was taken at the Trump International Hotel, not the Capitol building. We updated the post to reflect this information.

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler's passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.