Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Snatch Land Rover has found a role

Blatantly inadequate for carrying personnel on roads riddled with mines and IEDs due to its mechanics and flat bottom, the Land Rover Snatch has been a bloody and expensive failure as Patrol Vehicle. Good maneuverability, not “threatening” look and good protection from 7.62 mm balls, but an IED can turn one in a coffin far too easily. Yet, due to the inability to provide funding for a decent replacement, the upgraded Land Rover was sent to war, and did its best. Of course, the result was the only possible one, sadly: dead bodies, and money wasted on an upgrade that, while cheaper than new-built mine protected vehicles, did not deliver a solution, nor a decent gap filler, meaning that the money for it is only an addition upon the cost of the Foxhound now finally ordered and bound for Afghanistan at the end of this year (35 will be available early and will be used in the UK for training, with deliveries to start quite soon). 

The Snatch is not a mine-protected vehicle, and there was no upgrade that could possibly change this, as the americans know after their own not very succesful attempts of protecting Humvees. Now she's got a chance to redeem herself as a drone, chasing IEDs and Tangos out in Afghanistan.

But the Snatch Land Rover is not over yet. She can still help and save lives. She now is an Unmanned Ground Vehicle, working as part of Talisman anti-IED troops.

As part of a 15 millions contract, at least 12 Snatch Land Rovers have been converted into drones remotely operated, and they have gone Live in Afghanistan this week under the codename 'Operation Panama', defence sources have revealed.

A single system, reportedly consisting of two Snatch UGVs and ground control station, is now working in each of the six Talisman teams which already comprise two Buffalo Rummage, four Mastiff 'Protected Eyes' vehicles; two Tarantula-Hawk (T-Hawk) micro air vehicles; two High Mobility Earth Excavators; and two Talon UGVs EOD drones each. It is understood that the MoD has a total of six Talisman teams in operation as part of a £260m-pricetag programme.

An awesome photo from Rick Ingham, of Talisman elements on exercise. The Mastiff Protected Eyes has mast-mounted sensors, RWS turret, and mounts an anti-mine roller during ops in Afghanistan. The 260 millions for Talisman are a good example of money used well.

A source said: 'Talisman is providing positive effect in theatre to enable safe passage, thereby allowing more taskings to be met. It also provides surveillance at distance with base protection an emerging requirement.'

UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) selected the MIRA unmanned Snatch ahead of offerings from BAE Systems and Marshall Land Systems. With additional integration of specialist equipment from Thales UK and Exponent, the UGVs were originally slated to deploy in March following extensive field trials in Jordan last year. The sensor payload and even the exact role of the drone-Snatchs is kept secret, at least for now, due to operational security implications. MIRA remote-control technology is fitted to the Snatch Land Rovers allowing it to be driven by operators within a convoy, and reportedly the vehicle could also be easily reverted back into a manned platform for use inside bases such as Camp Bastion if it ever was necessary, making the system more of an “Optionally Manned” piece of kit than a full drone. The concept of Optionally Manned Platforms has been gaining some success worldwide lately, even with helicopters, with the US Army investigating both cargo helicopters but even Optionally Manned Scout/Attack Little Birds and Kiowa Warrior choppers. 

Optionally manned Little Bird helicopter with two large Cargo-carrying pods and EO/IR sensor turret. You can put two stretchers or two benches for 4 soldiers in place of those boxes, or a M134D minigun and rockets and even Hellfire missiles. It is small, cute, and dangerous. And when the risk is high, the crew stays back.

Meanwhile, the MoD is reportedly still compiling a business case for the use of UGVs for base protection. Options include Israeli company G-Nius's AvantGuard system with small systems such as Dragon Runner offering potential for situation awareness, ISR and counter-IED capabilities. The Dragon Runner has already been pursued in 100 units as a man-portable mini-EOD drone for infantry patrols. While it fits in a backpack, its small sizes mean that its rummaging arm is kind of weak, and more often than not it is not successful if it has to lift ruins and rubble to seek for bombs, meaning that its success has been limited.  The AvantGuard was reportedly very liked by the MOD, which was close to signing a contract for a number of drones already in December 2010. Personally, I’m a big supporter of this powerful drone, as whoever read my Army page on this Blog already knows. 

Ground-Penetrating radars to search for IEDs. Mast-mounted EO/IR recce payload. .50 HMG in Remote Weapon Station. No crew, and it even carries your heavy backpack for you during a patrol on foot out in Afghanistan: the AvantGuard is a drone i'd want right now, personally.

It is good to see the Army keep innovation going: an Unmanned Snatch is good to be used as part of Talisman, and can help soldiers "know what is behind the next corner" in an Urban Scenario without having to expose themselves too much. 
As to the AvantGuard... well, that's lot of stuff for real. Any Patrol going out on foot in Stan would benefit from having one of those leading the way. Weighting 1746 Kg, it can be slung from almost any helicopter, even from a small Lynx. It carries an amazing payload of 1088 kg, and can move at 20 km/hour. It has been tested and certified by the Israeli army, and this is a good indication that it works. 

I hope the MOD will soon acquire it, as i believe it will genuinely help the Infantry to face the modern, current and future challenges on the Battlefield.

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