The 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine has sent global demand for arms skyrocketing through the roof. Many companies in the defense sector have faced challenges in increasing production rates for their highly sought after armaments & equipment, but there are some clear success stories that stand out. Canada’s Roshel Smart Armored Vehicles is one of them. Established in Ontario, in 2016 by Roman Shimonov, a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, Roshel has become a major supplier to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. While most defense manufacturers are struggling with supply chain issues, Roshel is routinely delivering ahead of their contracted schedules. Their secret? Everything is done in house. They build their vehicles on a Ford F-550 chassis, but they have no subcontractors beyond that. Roman had lots of other interesting information to share, so please enjoy my interview with him, which appears in full below, with minor edits for length and clarity.

Colby Badhwar: Can you speak about Roshel’s evolution from making armored cars for the private sector cash transport industry, to vehicles for civilian law enforcement, and now being a major supplier to the Ukrainian Armed Forces? Any particular challenges along this journey and what did you do to overcome them?

Roman Shimonov: We initially focused on innovating the armored vehicle industry rather than just adding to the existing market. Our foundational strategy was to leverage cutting-edge technologies to develop a new line of products. We first disrupted the cash-in-transit sector by introducing vehicles that were fully controlled by dispatch centers, significantly reducing the risks of internal theft. This innovation quickly positioned Roshel as the preferred supplier for many North American cash transit companies.

In 2018, we launched the Senator model, which rapidly became popular among various North American law enforcement agencies, including prestigious clients like NASA, the U.S. Department of State, and various police departments. The Senator distinguished itself not merely as another vehicle option but as a superior product offering enhanced protection levels and value at a competitive price.

The main challenge throughout our evolution was the need to continuously innovate and offer distinct solutions in a market filled with conventional options. We addressed this by committing to rigorous research and development, ensuring that each new vehicle was not just an iteration, but a significant advancement in armored vehicle technology. This commitment to innovation and quality has been fundamental to our growth and success in the industry.

Roshel Senator in service with NASA. Photo via: Roshel

CB: In Spring 2022 the Canadian government bought 8 vehicles from Roshel for Ukraine, and last December it was reported that you had delivered 1000 Senators to them. You’re now producing 140 of them per month if I understand correctly. Are most of those destined for Ukraine? Or has Senator’s success in Ukraine earned you some new clients, either military or civilian, elsewhere in the world?

RS: Correct. Initially, the Canadian government donated the first eight Senator APCs to Ukraine in early 2022. Shortly thereafter, we quickly met an urgent requirement from the Czech Ministry of Defense, supplying them with 70 APCs delivered in under three months—a challenging feat amidst post-COVID logistical disruptions, the Suez Canal blockage, and the component shortages due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Our team excelled, delivering all contracted vehicles ahead of schedule.

The exceptional performance of our vehicles in Ukraine significantly raised our profile, leading to inquiries from several donating countries. Since then, we’ve delivered over 1,000 units. A pivotal moment for Roshel was when we formed a dedicated team to analyze, record, and address any failures or necessary improvements in our vehicles. Originally designed primarily for North American law enforcement operations, the harsh realities of war in Ukraine required adaptations. We have continuously optimized and improved our vehicles to meet the increased threats.

These adaptations resulted in the development of an advanced version of the Roshel Senator, which has been tested and certified to meet NATO STANAG 4569 Level 2 ballistic standards and Levels 3a, 2b, and 2c for blast resistance against 26 kg of TNT. This enhanced model offers superior protection compared to existing vehicles in its category and is available at a competitive price.

This new product has gained popularity, and we are continuously receiving orders from various countries, including the US, Israel, South Korea, and others, reflecting its success and the broadening of our client base beyond Ukraine.

CB: Are you still actively producing new vehicles destined for Ukraine? If so, when might we expect to see you reach the next milestone of 1500 or 2000 Senators delivered? Or are you waiting for some new contracts from donor countries, or the Ukrainian government itself?

RS: Yes, we are actively working in three shifts and continuing our efforts to support Ukraine. The ongoing conflict requires a substantial number of vehicles to ensure adequate protection and mobility for the forces involved. We are committed to meeting these needs as much as possible and our production rates will align with the contracts and support we receive from donor countries and the Ukrainian government.

CB: I’ve heard from contacts in the Canadian Forces that there is a lot of interest in Roshel. Did you submit a bid for their Light Utility Vehicle procurement program? Are you hoping to get some business from the CF in the future?

RS: Yes, Roshel has indeed submitted a bid for the Canadian Forces’ Light Utility Vehicle (LUV) procurement program and we anticipate to get the results for the first stage soon.

As a Canadian company, Roshel is well-positioned to offer substantial Industrial Technological Benefits (ITB). Our deep understanding of local requirements and capabilities allows us to deliver solutions that not only meet the operational needs but also support the Canadian economy by leveraging local industries and technologies.

Moreover, our recent collaboration with Babcock enhances our offering, particularly in terms of in-service support. Babcock is a global leader in providing such services, and our partnership is aimed at ensuring that we can offer robust and efficient support nationwide. This collaboration will enable us to provide better lifecycle management and cost-effective support solutions, which are crucial for the longevity and effectiveness of military equipment.

Although Roshel is relatively young as a company, the experience we are gaining by supporting the brave Ukrainians is immensely valuable; every year of operation is akin to ten years of experience. This extensive knowledge and expertise are directly reflected in the quality and reliability of our products.

CB: Last year the Canadian government ordered 200 Senators for Ukraine, and valued that contribution at $92 million, or $460,000 per vehicle. As you’ve continued to increase production rates, have you been successful in reducing the unit cost? 

RS: Yes, the Canadian order of 200 vehicles was one of several orders intended to support Ukraine, and like all others, this contract was delivered ahead of schedule. Thanks to our increased production rates, which we continually strive to improve and optimize, we have been successful in finding different ways to optimize our processes and supply chain. As a result, we have managed to reduce costs. However, at the same time, we are receiving more additional requests and our constant modernization efforts require further modifications. These modifications lead to additional costs, so the unit price has remained relatively steady despite our cost reduction efforts in production.

CB: In addition to your base model Senator APC, you now have Senator MRAP and Senator pickup. Are there any plans you can share about future variants or different configurations of your existing products? Such as an ambulance/medical evacuation configuration for the MRAP?

RS: The Senator is our flagship product at Roshel, which already comes in several configurations, including the Senator APC, ERV, MRAP and the Senator Pickup, specifically designed to carry cargo, counter UAV systems, mortar launchers, and other equipment. We have already designed a medical evacuation system and are currently looking for donors willing to support its deployment to Ukraine. Additionally, we are working on several new configurations, including one for demining. We have also started the development of an 8×8 vehicle, but this will require more time to develop and thoroughly test. These developments are part of our ongoing commitment to innovation and meeting the diverse needs of our clients.

Roshel Senator Pickup4 Scaled 1
Roshel Senator Pickup. Photo via: Roshel

CB: In March you announced a $65 million investment to build a new HQ & production facility in Brampton. Have you found a suitable site yet? When do you hope to break ground on construction and have it operating by?

RS: In March, we announced a $65 million investment for a new headquarters and production facility in Brampton. We have already invested over $50 million towards this project, which includes developing the infrastructure necessary for our product lines. As part of this ongoing process, we have already transitioned to our new facility, which is now fully operational with a vertically integrated in-house process. This facility encompasses various departments, including R&D, engineering, metal fabrication, mechanical, hydraulic, electrical, welding, machining, painting, and quality control.

Currently, we operate out of four facilities in Ontario and are actively planning to expand our presence to the US and Europe soon. This expansion aligns with our strategic goals to enhance our production capabilities and meet the growing demands of our global clientele.

CB: Any shortlist of states you are considering for your expansion to the United States? Or do you have a preferred site already identified?

RS: We are currently in the final stages of deciding which state will be chosen for our expansion to the United States. We are carefully evaluating several options to ensure the best fit for our operations and strategic goals.

CB: You recently wrote to the German newspaper Bild and informed them that you could fulfill a commitment from the German government to deliver 400 MRAPs to Ukraine, which their selected contractor is currently failing. Have you heard from the German government?

RS: We are actively engaging with the German government and other donating countries to inform them of Roshel’s unique capabilities. We have highlighted our ability to produce up to 140 vehicles per month, ensuring the most competitive prices along with all relevant NATO ballistic and blast certifications. Roshel’s proposal includes the immediate deployment of vehicles, as we consistently maintain a stock of 100 units to meet urgent needs.

Moreover, our commitment extends beyond sales; we offer comprehensive in-service support on the ground to ensure the longevity and reliability of our products. We are hopeful that the German government and other potential partners will consider giving us the opportunity to submit a proposal, allowing them to compare our offerings with other available options in the market.

Additionally, it’s noteworthy that the US Department of State has selected Roshel as the sole supplier of MRAPs to Ukraine. For further details and the rationale behind this selection, which is pertinent to all other potential buyers, you can view the official justification here.

CB: You also offered them the possibility of establishing a production facility in Germany. Would this be in addition to Roshel’s existing facilities Brampton?

RS: Yes, establishing a production facility in Germany is part of our strategic plan to expand Roshel’s capabilities beyond our Canadian and US operations. Previously, our focus was predominantly on the North American market, but as our export activities have increased, especially to Europe, it has become essential to have local manufacturing capabilities. Just recently, we deployed a batch of vehicles to Bosnia, and we are currently working on several orders for other European countries. Having a production facility in Europe will enhance our ability to serve these markets more effectively and respond more swiftly to their needs.

Roshel Senator. Photo via: Police Administration of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina

CB: Have you had any conversations with the Ukrainian government on establishing repair or production facilities in Ukraine?

RS: We already have several workshops across Ukraine that provide repair and maintenance for our vehicles. In addition to these services, we are in the final stages of planning to localize some of our production in Ukraine. Roshel employs over 200 refugees from Ukraine here in Canada, who have gained unique expertise while working with us. Many of them are eager to return to Ukraine and continue the production of our products in their home country, contributing to the local economy and strengthening our operational presence there.

CB: Any other plans for the future of Roshel that you would like to share?

RS: There are indeed many ambitious plans for the future of Roshel. Reflecting on our history, we’ve consistently pursued aggressive strategies and have managed to execute our ambitious plans despite facing numerous challenges. Some key initiatives include expanding our operations to the US and Europe, which will enhance our global reach and service capabilities. Additionally, we are excited about the upcoming launch of our new fully electric vehicle, which has been designed and built from scratch by Roshel, showcasing our commitment to innovation and sustainability. We are also progressing with the introduction of our 8×8 platform, further diversifying our product line. Above all, Roshel continues to lead the industry by offering not just vehicles, but comprehensive solutions that address the complex needs of our clients around the world. Throughout these developments, Roshel has matured into a company that not only meets industry standards but sets them, proving our ability to adapt and lead in an ever-evolving global market.