History Stories

These aircraft, tanks, rocket launchers and more serve as the workhorses of American warfare. One has even earned the nickname "the finger of God."

When the mission is critical and the risk is high, U.S. military personnel require vehicles they can count on to move them in and out of harm’s way, over any terrain, while protecting them from threats both known and unknown. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if those vehicles—whether for land, sea or air—are loaded with firepower. Here are some of the U.S. military’s most powerful workhorses, featured in HISTORY's special Chuck Norris's Epic Guide to Military Vehicles (airs Monday July 8, 9/8C).

JLTV: Joint Light Tactical Vehicle

JLTV

A newly developed Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), being developed for the Army and the U.S. Marine Corps, is put through its paces on one of the test courses at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, Yuma, Arizona.

What it’s known for: Bigger, stronger, longer and taller than a Humvee, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (or JLTV) boasts twice the weight and far more capacity to handle gnarly terrain and unconventional warfare. 

Protection: Traveling through a (literal) minefield? It’s got suicide armored doors weighing several hundred pounds apiece. The cabin is wrapped in an armored shell, and offers blast-protected seats and underbelly—and an automatic fire-extinguishing system. 

Firepower: Heavy machine guns, automatic grenade launchers and anti-tank guided missiles. 

Superpower: A souped-up, height-adjustable “intelligent” suspension helps the JLTV conquer steep inclines and rocky ravines. 

READ MORE: How Detroit Won World War II

Stryker

Stryker

In an exercise designed to prepare U.S. and international partner forces for a NATO deployment to Afghanistan, U.S. soldiers assigned to the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, U.S. Army Europe, scan the battlefield in a Stryker armored vehicle at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, October 2012. 

What it’s known for: Bigger than the JLTV, the 19-ton Stryker can fit up to nine troops and two crew members. Designed for versatility, it’s available in 10 different configurations and easily shifts from four-wheel (highway) to eight-wheel (cross-country) driving. 

Firepower: Heavy machine guns, automatic grenade launchers and guided missiles.

Watch a preview for Chuck Norris's Epic Guide to Military Vehicles, premiering Monday, July 8 at 9/8c as part of Car Week.

Protection: Strykers feature a reinforced V-shaped hull for undercarriage protection from IEDs. A Nuclear, Biological and Chemical reconnaissance version features real-time contamination sensors and transmits digital warning messages to follow-on forces. 

What’s in a name: This vehicle was named after two Medal of Honor recipients named Stryker, one from WWII and one from Vietnam.

AAV-7A1 Amphibious Assault Vehicle (Amtrac)

AAV-7A1 Amphibious Assault Vehicle

An amphibious assault vehicle with Company B, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, hits the beach during a mechanized raid.

What it’s known for: Durable and battle-tested around the globe, this amphibious-assault vehicle has for decades splashed right onto the shoreline from the decks of the U.S. Marine Corps assault ships, spearheading beachfront attacks. 

Capacity: The interior cabin holds three crew members along with 21 troops or up to 10,000 pounds of equipment. In 2018, the Marines awarded a new contract for an updated version of the AAV, which will be smaller and more powerful. 

Superpower: Versatility. At sea, it can navigate choppy surf as high as 10 feet. On land, it can hit speeds of up to 45 m.p.h. and can man check points, work as a bulk re-fueler or even a field ambulance.

MRZR 4x4

MRZR

U.S. Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion 5th Marines prepare to begin a patrol in the MRZR all-terrain vehicle, at Marine Corp Base, Camp Pendleton, California.

What it’s known for: When the military needed agile, ultra-light vehicles that could be deployed to drive anywhere behind enemy lines, it took a popular off-road vehicle called the Razer and jacked it up for battlefield use. This featherweight, only 1/7 the weight of a JLTV, can be transported anywhere by virtually any aircraft. 

Possible future superpower: The military is experimenting with outfitting them with with a high-energy laser that can blast down swarms of drones.

READ MOREThe Crazy Demons of Land-Speed Racing and Their Record-Breaking Rides

M270 Multiple Rocket Launch System

M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System

A U.S. M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System fires an MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile during a U.S. and South Korea joint missile drill aimed to counter North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile test in July 2017.

What it’s known for: The M270 was created to employ a much-needed “shoot-and-scoot” method of rocket launching, firing massive numbers of rockets in a short amount of time followed by a swift retreat. 

Firepower: The 12-barrel M270 can fire a dozen M26 rockets and drop more than 7,700 "bomblets." It can be outfitted with two surface-to-surface tactical missile systems, with a firing range between 20 and 43 miles. 

Superpower: Its ability to fire that many rockets in less than 40 seconds, completely blanketing one square kilometer, has earned the M270 the nickname “the finger of god.”

HIMARS: High Mobility Artillery Rocket System

HIMARS

A M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) is fired from the flight deck of the U.S. Navy amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage during an exercise over the Pacific Ocean in October 2017.

What it’s known for: The M270 was created to employ a much-needed “shoot-and-scoot” method of rocket launching, firing massive numbers of rockets in a short amount of time followed by a swift retreat. 

Firepower: The M270 can fire 12 M26 rockets and drop more than 7,700 bomblets. It can be outfitted with two surface-to-surface tactical missile systems, with a firing range between 20 and 43 miles. 

Superpower: It can fire all 12 rockets in less than 40 seconds, completely blanketing one square kilometer, before scooting away. That capability has earned the M270 the nickname “the finger of god.”

V-22 Osprey Tiltrotor Military Aircraft

V-22 Osprey tiltrotor military aircraft

A V-22B Osprey of the U.S. Marine Corps takes off from RAF Fairford, United Kingdom. 

What it’s known for: Part helicopter, part plane, the Osprey is the world’s first production tiltrotor aircraft, a hybrid that can take off and land vertically (so it could get in and out of difficult situations). But once airborne, it transforms into a turboprop craft that flies faster, farther and at higher altitudes than any conventional helicopter. It serves as the escort fleet for Marine One, the helicopter that carries the American president. 

By the numbers: The Osprey can carry up to 24 fully-equipped troops, reach speeds of 350 m.p.h., climb to heights of 25,000 feet (five miles). 

Superpowers: It can be refueled in flight. Also, the Osprey’s wings can rotate and turn, making for compact storage aboard ships and planes—like tucking in a car’s side-view mirrors.

F-35 Stealth Fighter

F-35

U.S. Air Force Capt. Andrew ‘Dojo’ Olson, F-35 Demonstration Team pilot and commander, performs a dedication pass during the Melbourne Air and Space Show in Melbourne, Florida, March 2019. 

What it’s known for: The F-35 is the world's most advanced single-engine, supersonic stealth fighter, developed to keep the U.S. air fleet dominant—and undetected. Its wide-ranging capabilities include air-to-air and air-to-ground electronic strikes, intelligence gathering and surveillance and reconnaissance missions. 

By the numbers: Top speed Mach 1.6 (1.5 times the speed of sound). Price tag: $80 million. 

Firepower: Carries anti-tank missiles, cluster bombs and guided bombs. 

Pricey helmets: Pilots use a helmet-mounted display instead of a standard heads-up display. Each helmet costs between $300,000 and $400,000. 

Superpowers: Advanced electronic warfare capabilities allow the F-35 to locate and track enemy forces, jam radio frequencies and suppress enemy radar. It can track enemy missiles in full 360 degrees. And the F-35B is the world’s first supersonic stealth aircraft with short take-off and vertical-landing capabilities.

M1 A2 Abrams Tank

M1 A2 Abrams tank

A U.S. M1 A2 SEP Abrams battle tank fires live rounds during the United States and South Korean Joint Live-fire Exercise at Rodriguez Range in September 2011 in Pocheon, South Korea.

What it’s known for: Having made its debut during the Persian Gulf War, the M1 A2 Abrams is arguably the most dominant tank in the history of warfare, the first that could fire effectively while moving. Its turbine engine, much quieter than that of other tanks, has earned it the name “Whispering death.” 

By the numbers: The Abrams is a monster: 32 feet long, 12 feet wide, 8 feet tall and weighing in at a hefty 65 tons. Despite its size, it can still accelerate to speeds of 40 m.p.h. 

Protection: Its armor is on cutting edge of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) protection. Depleted uranium plates, more resistant than steel, protect the frontal part of the turret. 

Firepower: Its 120mm 17.3 foot-long stabilized cannon can fire while moving or stationary, day or night. It also boasts powerful machine guns that can provide short-range air defense capability against helicopters and low-flying aircraft. 

Superpower: The Abrams’ ballistics fire-control computer calculates barrel angle, ammunitions type and range to target 30 times a second for superior accuracy. And it compensates for everything from gravitational pull on muzzle to how much the muzzle might have heated up in the desert sun.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

RELATED CONTENT