Snatch Land Rover's replacement is revealed by MoD

Jonathan Beale describes the advantages of the army's new Ocelot vehicle

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The Ministry of Defence has announced that a vehicle partially designed by Formula 1 engineers is to replace the controversial Snatch Land Rover.

The British-designed Ocelot has a V-shaped shell intended to defend against attacks coming from below the carriage.

The patrol vehicle can also be easily dismantled if needs be.

The Land Rover had been criticised for not offering troops in Afghanistan and Iraq enough protection from roadside bombs.

The first Ocelots should come into service by next year.

Adaptable

The Ocelot, which was created by Warwickshire-based Force Protection Europe and Ricardo, a British automotive engineering company, was among several bids competing for the Ministry of Defence contract.

The vehicle, which can weigh 7.5 tonnes when loaded, can reach 50mph in 19.75 seconds.

Ocelot Light Protected Patrol Vehicle

Ocelot LPPV
  • V-shaped armoured hull helps deflect blasts from roadside bombs
  • Modular design means pods can be changed according to role
  • Key roles: Patrol, fire support and protected logistics in all terrains

Its wheels work independently of each other; this means it is less of a problem if one falls off as the others would continue to work.

All the components can be removed easily - meaning that the pod where up to six people can sit can be changed and the vehicle could be turned into an ambulance if required.

It was devised by engineers from a variety of backgrounds - including the World Rally Championship, McLaren F1 and BMW - and the creators say tests show the vehicle can easily be repaired in confined forward operating bases.

At least 37 UK soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan while travelling in the lightly armoured Snatch Land Rover; its vulnerability to roadside bombs and other explosives led some soldiers to call it the "mobile coffin".

Snatch Land Rover

Col Stuart Tootal, former commander of 3 Para, the first battle group sent to Afghanistan's restive Helmand province, told the BBC that soldiers would be pleased but the Army could not afford delays in choosing the right equipment.

He said: "I think there is general disappointment in many areas of the armed services that equipment takes too long to be replaced when it's found to be inadequate, but at the same time that has to be balanced against the fact that the lessons are being learned and that a lot more equipment and a lot better equipment is now coming in at a faster pace."

The inadequacies of the Land Rover have been discussed several times during the Iraq inquiry.

Paul Kernaghan from the Association of Chief Police Officers said he refused to allow police officers sent to Iraq to be driven around in the vehicles, while former Army chief Gen Sir Richard Dannatt said the problem of the Land Rovers should have been dealt with earlier.

He told the inquiry: "'We worked round the problem, we didn't actually confront the problem. It has been a definitive negative and we are paying to some extent the price for that in Afghanistan."

'Disquiet'

In March this year, a coroner presiding over the inquest into the deaths of Cpl Sarah Bryant and SAS reservists Cpl Sean Reeve, L/Cpl Richard Larkin and Pte Paul Stout in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2008 said he would be contacting the MoD about his concerns over the use of the vehicle in which the four had died.

The inquest heard that the soldiers' commander had requested a replacement for their Snatch Land Rover but was refused because of equipment shortages.

The vehicles could not cover soft ground and became stuck in a little water, which restricted the unit to driving along dangerous tracks.

"There was significant disquiet about these vehicles being the only resource available to this unit for a variety of reasons," coroner David Masters said.

Start Quote

They should have been replaced a long time ago”

End Quote Rose Gentle

That same month, the Labour government announced it was placing an order worth hundreds of millions of pounds for 200 vehicles to replace the Land Rovers.

Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son Gordon was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004, said the news had come too late for many.

"They should have been replaced a long time ago. In fact, the Snatch Land Rover should never have been used," she said.

Col Tootal said: "Snatch's deficiencies came to light in Iraq in 2003 where it was clearly apparent this was a vehicle that was not suitable for counter-insurgency operations where there was a high threat of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in particular.

"[But the decision has] taken so long for two reasons. First of all it is difficult to get the technology and science right to give you a vehicle of sufficient mobility with the right level of protection, but at the same time, it is also a poor reflection on a cumbersome procurement system that needs to be much snappier and much sharper about meeting the operational requirements which commanders are asking for.

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