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The debate on armoured vehicles
By Nigel Green
THE argument over the Army's use of Land Rovers has again surfaced following the deaths of four soldiers in Afghanistan.
They were in a lightly-armoured "snatch" Land Rover which was destroyed by a landmine east of Laskhkar Gar on June 17.
The Ministry of Defence has been heavily-criticised for continuing to use the vehicles, despite the Taliban's increasing use of landmines and roadside bombs.
Dr Richard North, who served in the RAF and is editor of the Defence of the Realm website claims soldiers he is in touch with are desperate to get more heavily-armoured equipment.
Mastiffs, which are also being used in Afghanistan, are regarded as being too heavy to do some of the roles carried out by the Land Rovers.
The MoD defends the use of Land Rovers by claiming they are faster and more agile than more heavily-armoured vehicles, as well as offering 360-degree vision for soldiers.
The Land Rovers are also vital for winning "hearts and minds" because they are less "intimidating" to local people.
Shortly after the latest deaths involving a Land Rover in Afghanistan, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, , the commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, based in Laskhar Gah, denied the vehicle was a "death-trap".
But, asked if he would rather not use the "Snatch" vehicle, he was quoted as saying: "I think that's fair. It's not a vehicle of last resort but it's clearly not a vehicle of first choice."
"It (the Land Rover) was struck by a landmine containing anything from 100-150kg of explosive, which would probably have destroyed all the vehicles other than the most heavily-armoured."
But Dr North said: "I have a picture of a Cougar vehicle which hit a similar-sized landmine.
"It was badly-damaged but the soldiers inside walked away without any serious injuries."
Brigadier Carleton-Smith said: "I certainly wouldn't elect to use Snatch in the high-risk areas. The plan is to phase them out over time. Their profile is most appropriate to the urban centres.
"They are certainly not the vehicle of first choice for those elements of the force who are most routinely exposed to the Taliban threat.
"But, at the end of the day, we have got to be able to keep the force moving."
After coming under fire over the rising death-toll, the MoD ordered 150 Ridgeback vehicles in December 2007.
They are regarded as being small enough to do the role of the Land Rovers but heavily-armoured enough to give better protection.
But it could be late summer before the Ridgebacks arrive in theatre.
Meanwhile, there is no doubt the larger and heavier Mastiffs have already saved lives.
When I visited Afghanistan last year, I met Private Lee Jones, 24, from Penrith, Cumbria, who was in a Mastiff when it hit an anti-tank mine.
He said: "There was big explosion and a lot of dust.
"It lifted the vehicle between seven and eight feet. It was like a car crash.
"It blew the front wheels off but this vehicle is brilliant. It saved my life. It's saved a lot of lives."
Private Lee Ashton, 24, from Darlington, was on a mission to supply food and water to frontline troops.
Lee said: "We were on the way back we hit an anti-tank mine.
"It blew the front tyre off and the wheel arch but it kept driving. It just felt like we had hit a huge pothole.
"I only realised we had hit a mine when I saw the tyre was off. A big cloud of dust came in through the vents into the cab. The man on top cover then shouted that we'd hit a mine.
"It was a big anti-tank mine and if I'd been in any other vehicle, I'd probably be dead
Private Stephen MacLauchlan, from York, survived four RPGs hitting his vehicle.
One struck the windscreen and exploded but, incredibly, failed to penetrate the six-inch
Another hit the armour attached to the side of the vehicle and exploded harmlessly, while
the other two hit the fuel tank but only left it badly-dented.
Stephen said: "Quite simply, I owe my life to this vehicle.
"If I had been in any other armoured personnel carrier, I'd almost certainly be dead now.
"These vehicles are the safest we have in theatre. They cost half a million pounds each but it's money well spent.
"These vehicles are outstanding. They're worth every penny."
An MoD spokesman said: "The safety of our personnel is a prime concern.
"We have done a lot in the last two years to ensure that commanders have a variety of vehicles at their disposal. It isn't a case of a single vehicle being suitable for every task.
"Sometimes we need to use the speed, agility and low profile of the Snatch Land Rover which is suitable for the difficult terrain in Helmand, while at other times the additional protection offered by vehicles such as Mastiff is called for.
"We are continuing to invest heavily in programmes to increase the protection of our vehicles against all threats, including explosive devices.
"The procurement of over 150 Ridgeback vehicles, announced in December 2007, represents a further spend of more than £150 million on protection for our forces."
For security reasons, the Ministry of Defence refuse to give details of the numbers of Land Rovers and other vehicles being used in Afghanistan and Iraq.
However, they do claim that, in the last year, a total of 600 new protected vehicles have been ordered for British soldiers serving in the two countries.
But Dr North said: "The British are the only country that uses such poor equipment.
"The Australians and Dutch used to patrol in Land Rovers but they withdrew them and replaced them with properly-protected vehicles called Bushmasters.
"The French and Italians also use armour-protected vehicles – and they patrol a relatively safe area in the North.
"Even the Estonians are using mamba armour-protected vehicles that we sold them a few years ago.
The vehicles currently being used or soon to be used by British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Land Rover is the mainstay of British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Weighing around 3.5 tonnes, the "Snatch" vehicle was given its name after being used to catch rioters during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
But, while the light armour may give protection against small arms fire and blast bombs, it offers little resistance to roadside bombs and landmines.
The Land Rover is also used in its open-topped WMIK (Weapons Mounted Installation Kit) role.
Pioneered by the SAS, the vehicles are used because they are so quick and agile, with claims that the vehicles can hit more than 90 mph on a good road, although added armour is likely to reduce that figure significantly.
The Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle was regarded as offering the ultimate protection to troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, last year, four British soldiers were killed when their Warrior was hit by a huge roadside bomb in Iraq.
Although the Warrior weighs more than 25 tonnes, the Perkins V8 Condor engine gives the vehicle a top speed of nearly 50mph on road.
The armour is designed to withstand an explosion from a 155mm shell at 10 metres.
All vehicles are equipped with a 7.62 mm chain gun and a Rarden cannon.
Warrior variants include artillery observation post vehicle (OPV) and command post vehicle (CPV), and a Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers (REME) recovery and repair vehicle.
At 6.3 metres long, 3 metres in width and 2.8 metres in height, it is obviously not as agile as the Land Rover.
The Panther is described as a command and liaison vehicle which, despite weighing seven tonnes, is claimed to be almost as versatile as the Land Rover but better-protected.
Measuring around 4.7 metres in length, 2 metres across and two metres high, the Panther is made at BAE Systems plant in Newcastle, where the company is part-way through a Ministry of Defence order for 400 vehicles.
The MoD will not say how many are in Afghanistan and Iraq but it is believed a small number have arrived in theatre, with the remainder due to arrive by the end of 2008.
The Panther's v-shaped underneath is designed to deflect the blast from a landmine.
It also has crumple zones – similar to those built into a car – which will absorb the shock.
An MoD spokesman said: "Panther represents versatility and provides our troops with the mobility required to fulfil a range of command, liaison and utility roles.
It is able to fight in all weathers day and night using thermal imaging equipment that "sees" in the dark."
The Ministry of Defence ordered 150 Ridgback vehicles in December 2007 in the hope of cutting the number of deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, although they have still not arrived in theatre.
The order is costing the MoD around £150 million.
The Ridgbacks are made by the American company Force Protection Industries and are a modified version of their Cougar vehicle.
The 4x4 Ridgback weighs 19 tonnes and has a top speed of 55mph and can run on flat tyres.
Like its sister vehicle, the smaller, 4x4 Cougar, the 6x6 Mastiff is made by Force Protection Industries in America and weighs 24.5 tonnes.
Its Caterpillar C7 diesel engine gives it a top speed of 65 mph.
With a crew of two and the capacity to carry 10 men, it is heavily-armoured and regarded as being heavily-protected against roadside bombs and landmines.
However, its size – it is 7 metres in length, 2.7 metres tall and 2.6 metres across - means it is less agile than the Land Rover.
This tracked, amphibious vehicle is made by BAE Systems and the MoD recently ordered an extra 14 for use in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At more than 8 metres long, 2.8 metres high and 2.7 metres across, the Viking is a relatively large vehicle.
It weighs nearly 13 tonnes and is equipped with a Cummins 5.9ltr, 6 cylinder euro 3 diesel engine, which gives a top speed of 40 mph.
Built by the American company, Perry Engineering, this vehicle is a favourite of the Australian Army, although it is believed to also be popular with British special forces.
Weighing nearly 12.5 tonnes, it is just over 7 metres in length, 2.7 metres high and 2.4 metres in width.
As well as a driver it can carry nine soldiers and its Caterpillar 3126E engine gives it a top speed of more than 60 mph.
The Saxon dates back to 1983 and was manufactured by GKN Defence. It has largely been withdrawn from use in Afghanistan and Iraq due to its age.
Described as a mine-proof lorry, it is designed around truck parts and does not require the same level of maintenance of track and running gear normally associated with APCs.
It can carry 10 soldiers and will also serve as an ambulance.
With a Cummins BT5.1 engine, it is capable of 60 mph.
The Bulldog is a more heavily-armoured version of the old FV430 armoured personnel carriers and is supposed to offer the same protection as Warrior.
Weighing just over 15 tonnes, it is 5.2 metres long, 2.8 metres in height and 2.3 metres in width. Its Rolls Royce K60 multi-fuel engine gives it a top speed of 35 mph, although recent modifications have increased that to 45 mph.
The author: freelance journalist Nigel Green has traveled extensively with the British armed forces, including those on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.