Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Vikings to be overhauled

The Royal Marines ordered 108 Viking vehicles in the early 2000s, as part of the Commando 21 reorganization. The Viking All-Terrain Vehicle (Protected) was meant to provide armoured, amphibious mobility to the Commando groups, and it hit its IOC in 2005, with deliveries completed by 2006. The vehicle would supplement and replace part of the unarmored BV206 vehicle, still present in large numbers and in several variants within the Commando brigade.  
The Royal Marines took 33 of the new vehicles with them in Afghanistan during their tour in October 2006, and the all terrain mobility of the Viking proved incredibly precious during operations, so much so that the British Army asked to retain a Viking presence in theatre in the long term as Herrick 6 began. The Army obviously had no Viking-trained personnel, so the new big mission of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group became the support of the Afghan effort, in parallel to the deployment of the vehicle at sea on amphibious operations, including a raid inland in Somalia last year.

Further orders for Viking vehicles were made during the years of service in Afghanistan: in June 2008, for example, 14 new vehicles were ordered.
Eventually, 24 Viking of the much improved MK2 type were also ordered during 2009, with deliveries completed in 2010: these were 22 troop transports and 2 command vehicles.
In 2007 a separate order was placed, for 21 Vikings which will be part of the Watchkeeper UAS system , carrying the Tactical Party that will enable ground forces and HQs to access the data from the unmanned aircrafts and assign missions to it.
In total, more than 160 Vikings have been ordered by the UK, but at least 27 were lost during operations.
This Viking, in action in Afghanistan, is allowing a sniper to fire from under armor cover. The MR555 protected mount for a GPMG on the front car is immediately evident.
Eventually, the Viking in Afghanistan began showing its limits, as the need for bar armour against RPGs, under-belly protection against IEDs and other threatre-entry standard modifications added a good two tons of weight to the vehicle, bringing it close to its limits.
Worse, as the threat of the IEDs became worse, the Viking’s adaptability to the threat came to an end when the weight growth margin was reached, and adding further protection proved simply impossible. A UOR at that point was launched, and some 100 to 115 Bronco vehicles, larger and with more room for armor but otherwise based on the same principles and architecture, were procured from Singapore, and extensively improved and modified into the “Warthog” vehicle, which then replaced the Viking in theatre.
The Warthog order was announced in December 2008 as a UOR for Afghanistan: curiously, barely months before, in June, the MOD had launched a tender for the All-Terrain Vehicle (Support), which had to be amphibious, armoured, fitted for weapons, and which was intended as a replacement for the BV206. The ATV(S) was to work alongside the Viking, and obvious candidates included the Viking itself, perhaps in the MK2 variant, and the Bronco.
In July, the tender notice was cancelled. Ever since, I’ve been thinking that the Warthog might be considered more than just a UOR: personally, I hope (and suspect) that Warthog might end up in the Royal Marines core budget as ATV(S). The need for a replacement for the BV206, after all, has not gone away.

The Viking finally came home from Afghanistan, but years of such intensive employment in a very hostile environment took their toll: earlier this year it became clear that the share of original Viking vehicles that had been overloaded with armor and TES kit would not be able to be safely operated in amphibious operations with the Royal Marines without getting an extensive refit and upgrade.

Not long ago, the Royal Marines trialed the Viking for launch and swim ashore directly from the amphibious vessel HMS Bulwark. Due to their low water speed (only around 5 km/h at best) they are normally carried close to shore, up to five at a time, via LCU MK10. But they have proven that they can swim ashore and back directly from the ship, in the fashion envisaged by the (infinitely more ambition) EFV of the US Marines.

Now, the Ministry of Defence has announced a regeneration programme worth 37.8 million pounds, with a contract awarded to BAE Systems Hagglunds. Work will be carried out at Ornskoldsvik, in Sweden, and will be completed by the end of 2014. The scope is to rebuild all but the existing MK2 Vikings to a fully amphibious, heavier, better protected MK2 standard.
The gross weight will grow to 14 tons, and new front and rear hulls will be rebuilt to integrate the latest generation V-shaped mine-resistant protection. Modifications to brakes and suspensions and to all other affected components will be part of the overhaul.
99 complete vehicles will be overhauled. As I said, possibly 24 or more Vikings are already available in MK2 configuration, and won’t be modified. The 21 Vikings owned by the Army for Watchkeeper are also almost certainly out of the count, too. A further 12 rear cabs only have been given on loan to the Swedish army, which required them as a UOR to give protection to its forces in Afghanistan. The British were in condition to give them the rear cars due to the arrival of Warthog in theatre. The front cars were given by the Dutch instead.
As part of the loan agreement, Sweden will return 12 cars remanufactured at full MK2 standard.    

“All but the existing Mk2 Vikings will be rebuilt around completely new front and rear car hulls featuring the latest mine-protected v-shaped underbodies of the Mk2”

BAE Systems statement

Of the 99 vehicles going into overhaul, 9 will have their rear car modified into a Mortar Carrier wagon. This assembly, showcased at DSEI 2011 by BAE Systems, includes a turntable for mounting the 81mm L16 mortar and space for the stowage of 140 rounds.
A further 19 vehicles will have their rear carrier fitted with a crew-served weapon turret, adding to the shielded machine gun ring already present on most of the front cars. Due to the Afghan conflict, at least 69 MR555 weapon mounts were procured and installed. These shielded mounts can take any weapon, from a 5.56 Minimi to the HMG .50 and the GMG. The mount weights some 380 kg complete with the .50 HMG and offers STANAG Level 2 ballistic protection to the gunner.
The Viking Crew Served Weapon variant was showcased by BAE Systems as a very impressive, all-inclusive mobile fortress meant to provide fire support and ISTAR to the forces on the ground: it was in fact shown fitted with a Remote Weapon Station with a .50 HMG mounted over the front car, a shielded ring mount mounted on top of the rear car, Boomerang III acoustical shooter detection system and retractable, mast-mounted EO/IR sensor payload. It is not clear if the 19 CSW vehicles for the Royal Marines will include all of these features.  

The Crew Served Weapon carrier as shown by BAE at DSEI in 2011: Boomerang III shooter detection system, Selex Enforcer RWS with .50 machine gun, mast-mounted sensor and rear protected mount for another machine gun.

The British Viking vehicles originally came only in Troop Carrier, Command and Recovery variants, but in 2008 field conversion of some troop carriers into ambulances were carried out. I don’t know how this approach progressed: it is possible that a small number of ambulances are available.
The Warthog order included the ambulance variant specifically, from the very start.

Inside the MK2's rear car
The MK2 Viking is fitted with a shallow V-shaped shield in both cars, and has a steel body fully protected against 7.62 armor piercing rounds and 152 mm artillery slivers at 10 meters of range. The MK2 has greater engine power and electrical power output increased to 260 amperes. It is also equipped with blast-protected seats, hung on rails, and comes with four-point seat belts.
It also has weight growth margin to take additional armor to gain 2a/2b NATO STANAG resistance against mines and IEDs, and can be fitted with a cage armor to resist to RPGs, but with these additions it is no longer amphibious. 

Viking mortar carrier

The news of the overhaul is to be welcomed, naturally. The 19 CSW vehicles and the 9 Mortar Carriers will add a lot to the Battlegroup at Readiness, but more would be necessary for a complete replacement of the BV206 in the many roles it still covers, mortar carrier included. It is likely that, at least for the time being, BV206s will continue to be used in training and in low-readiness Commando groups within the brigade, with the more capable Viking mortar reserved to the battlegroup at readiness within the Response Force Task Group. 

BV206 Mortar Carriers of 42 Commando in Norway during exercises. They carry 100 ready rounds.
Perhaps, in good time, Warthog will help the Royal Marines solve the problem of a successor for the BV206. In the meanwhile, the overhaul will keep the Viking in service out to 2031, with a wider upgrade expected around the end of this decade: perhaps the heavier Warthog will become the main troop carrier variant, while the Viking will, in time, become the actual Support vehicle by taking over the specialized tasks...? 

It's worth remembering that BV206s give mobility also to Royal Marines' communications and EW systems. 


  1. Why aren't they keeping the Warthog?

    1. They might keep it, actually, as i've written, in addition to Viking to replace the BV206 remaining.
      But we won't know the future of UORs vehicles before next year at the earliest.

    2. So unless there's another Afghanistan, the Warthog will remain idle?

      Can they re-sell it to other parties?

    3. Whatever is not taken into core budget at the end of 2014 when the war ends and the Treasury stops passing along the money will be sold, gifted away or scrapped.
      Jackal has a future. Foxhound too, and Mastiff is part of the Army 2020 plan.

      Ridgback, Husky, Warthog, but even the Reaper drones, they are all UORs, and will all go in 2014 if they are not taken into the defence budget.
      As i said, more accurate planning for the future of UOR kit is expected to be finalized next year.

      Reaper will stay, i believe. Warthog might stay if the Royal Navy finds the money to give it to the Marines. The Army won't keep it, i think. So it's RM or nothing.
      But we will have to wait and see.

    4. A brilliant post, Gaby, summarizing all the news so ably.

      “I’ve been thinking that the Warthog might be considered more than just a UOR: personally, I hope (and suspect) that Warthog might end up in the Royal Marines core budget as ATV(S).”

      Do you have any solid reason for using the word “suspect”? I certainly hope that you are right.

      However, I have read some MOD reports recently that seem to suggest that Warthog is one vehicle that will not go into the core, either for the Army or the Marines. One said that the a Monitoring System (HUMS) would be fitted to 578 vehicles (Mastiff, Ridgback, Husky, Jackal, Coyote and Wolfhound) but there was no mention of the Warthog. Makes me think it might be left for the Afghan National Army. A pity for the British Army if that happens. It seems an excellent piece of kit and just the kind of fast, mobile, all-terrain vehicle that will undoubtedly be needed in the kind of contingencies that arise so often nowadays. It will be among the first needed and if it is not retained, no doubt we shall see further UORs to obtain new ones, unless of course Viking2 proves man enough for the job of carrying all that extra armour, etc.

    5. My suspect comes out of the timing with the ATV(S) tender, its cancellation as Warthog was being selected, and its being amphibious and very much suited to meet the Marines's needs.

      I've always thought, ever since, that it might have been a UOR only for 50%, the other 50% of the reason for its selection being the hope of keeping it in the long term.

      But mind you, i'm speculating there.
      As for the British Army, as i said, i'm pretty sure they won't keep it, as they don't see a real long-term mission for it in the force. The only chance for Warthog to survive in the long term is the Marines finding the money to keep it around as they try to retire the venerable BVs.
      Not easy, admittedly. But there is still some hope.

  2. Some good information in there Gabriele.

    Am curious as to why they used an amphibious vehicle in Afghanistan, You cant make a vehicle amphibious and heavily armoured (unless you make it extremely big).

    1. The incredible all-terrain capability of Viking (and Bronco/Warthog) allows them to move in impredictable way, sneaking on the enemy from directions that the enemy is unlikely to mine or plant with IEDs because other vehicles would never move there.
      This turned out being an important capability.

    2. Warthog has been tested for in "amphibious" terrain in Thailand (another country which Singapore sold its vehicle too). But that was main the flooded areas.

  3. Would replacing the BV206 with the Warthog really be cheaper in the long run than buying some more BVS10s?

    The Warthogs are likely to need a overhaul and upgrade before they could be used after their time in Afghanistan. It would also mean there was still two vehicle types to support. So in the longer term it could work out cheaper to buy new BVS10s, but then again when did the MOD ever think about the longer term.

    Also the Warthog might be better protected but I believe it is quite a bit slower over rough terrain than the Viking?

    1. It would very likely be better to have a single vehicle type in service in the long run, but even with the need for a reset, the Warthog are likely to be a less expensive option than new acquisitions.

      I wouldn't be surprised if the BV206 ends up working on for many more years, though...
      As for the Warthog being slower, i honestly don't know, but i don't expect it to be slower. Why would it be so?

  4. Ahh Gabby, but would it ? "even with the need for a reset, the Warthog are likely to be a less expensive option than new acquisitions. "

    This is not necessarily true, but we dont know do we. There is plenty of scope for using 100 plus Warthog for specialist roles within the core Army fleet - replacing FV432 variants with Engineer, REME or Signals units.

    RM Armoured Support Group really is not big enough to efficiently support more than one type, whether that is BV206/BVS10MK2 or BVS10Mk2/Warthog; might be cheaper in the long run to buy more Viking MK2 than to reset / refurb the equally heavily used and battered Warthogs.

    1. We don't know for sure, no. But if we take Viking as an indication, 37 million to extensively overhaul and in some case re-role 99 vehicles is a good price, considering that 24 Viking MK2 in 2009 cost around 20 million pounds.

      Warthog was procured specifically since it had better growth margin and better protection as starting point: it should not be as spent and overloaded as Viking, so it is not unrealistic to assume its overhaul shouldn't be excessively complex and expensive.
      If 80/90 vehicles could be kept, it is likely to make financial sense.

      Would a "all Viking MK2" fleet be better in the long term? Yes, quite certainly.
      But it would require more money up front, which is unlikely to be available.
      It's a bit like the carriers: CATOBAR wins hands down every day, but it costs too much up front due to need for catapult gear.

      As for 100 vehicles spread across the Army as specialist vehicles, i have to disagree. Too few to make it worthwhile, and spreading them around makes it awkward like hell.
      I think the Army has no use for Warthog, sincerely.

  5. I actually don’t understand why he British Army refuses to keep the Warthog as it is far superior as compared to the Viking. It also saved countless lives so why did they instead choose the Viking that killed so many of their soldiers? I don’t understand.


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