Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thinking about MARS Solid Support Ship

A post by Solomon up at SNAFU has pushed me towards a return to the subject of the crucially important and very interesting MARS Solid Support Ship requirement. I want to briefly explain why, in the Royal Navy that is taking shape in these years, the MARS SSS is crucially important and why giving it RoRo and amphibious capabilities would be an excellent investment.

The discussion is inspired by some early concept images of the MARS SSS ship which have made it out of MOD circles, reaching the public. These images show large, ambitious supply ships with three Heavy RAS stations, two large cranes supporting a couple of LCVP MK5 landing crafts, a RoRo deck with ramp and, apparently, an enclosed well dock, in addition to a large two-spot flight deck and hangar arrangements for three Merlin helicopters, folded.

The objection moved is that MARS SSS looks like a ship that is trying to do too much. In part, it is a correct observation, because MARS SSS comes from the merging of two different requirements. In origin, the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) program was due to deliver six fleet tankers, two Solid Stores replenishment ships and three Joint Sea Based Logistics vessels.
Years of budget cuts have had a dramatic impact on MARS, with its separation in separate workstreams and with a tough reduction in the number of hulls. The MARS FT (Fleet Tanker) workstream, after many long delays, settled for the delivery of four 37.000 tons tankers, with hulls built in South Korea to british design.  The Joint Sea Based Logistic requirement has been killed by the insufficiency of funding, leading to a merging with the Solid Stores replenishment requirement. From an initially envisaged 5 vessels of two types, we are down to aspirations for three vessels of the same design.

With MARS, the Royal Navy had hoped to return to a clean separation of roles between Auxiliaries, taking a step away from the concept of “one stop” replenishment vessels such as Fort Victoria and Fort George, which have been built to be able to provide both fuel and solid stores during a single RAS contact with supported warships.
Following the cuts, while the neat distinction between Tanker and Solid Support vessel will be reinstated, some degree of fusion between requirements is expected to be part of the Solid Support Ship, as the alternative is abandoning every ambition of providing better afloat logistics support to ground troops ashore. The JSBL vessels was to be able to provide stores and support, including maintenance workshops for helicopters and land vehicles, for a up to a complete medium weight brigade engaged on operations even well inland. We’ve never quite gotten to explore the design of such a vessel, since the requirement has been killed before we could reach the stage of the first designs, however extensive Forward Aviation Support (FAS) capabilities, plus a RoRo cargo deck and some means for the transfer of large loads and vehicles to and from landing crafts for delivery ashore were all key points of the ship’s concept.

The MARS SSS will thus need to harmonize the requirements of a Stores replenishment ship, optimized for the support of aircraft carrier operations, with the requirements connected with the support of ground forces in action ashore.

This merging of requirements fits into a wider picture which sees the Royal Navy condemned to do a lot more with a lot less. With the effective, silent death of any program for the replacement of the LPH capability offered by HMS Ocean and by HMS Illustrious, the Royal Navy is reduced to hoping that both of the Queen Elizabeth (CVF) class carriers can make it into active service not as pure strike carriers, but as multirole Landing, Helicopter, Aviation vessels (LHA). This need has been recognized publicly and openly for the first time in the SDSR 2010, with the unveiling of the Carrier Enabled Power Projection plan. The QE-class ships will routinely only carry a single squadron of F35B, but will complement it with elements of a Royal Marines battlegroup, with support helicopters including Chinooks, Merlin and Apache gunships.

As a consequence, the Solid Support Ship will be required to support a carrier which is also an amphibious assault platform, at the centre of the Response Force Task Group of the Royal Navy, an integrated force which replaces the earlier, separated Amphibious Ready Group and CVS battlegroup.

MARS SSS should enter service “around the middle of the next decade”. In fact, during planning round 2011, the Ministry of Defence decided to extend by two years the service life of the current replenishment vessels, Fort Austin (which had been mothballed in 2009 but was brought back in service with an SDSR 2010 decision and a big refit) and Fort Rosalie, so that they are now due to retire in 2023 and 2024. I’ve not been able to find an official, up to date indication of OSD for Fort Victoria, which is younger but has the problem of being an Auxiliary Oiler Replenisher carrying fuel in an outdated single-hull structure. My guess is that she could bow out in 2025.
Fort Austin and Fort Rosalie have a full load displacement of over 23.800 tons, and can carry up to 3500 tons of solid stores in four holds with a total capacity of some 12.200 cubic meters. They have a single spot flight deck and a large hangar, the top of which can be used as an emergency landing platform. Up to four helicopters can be embarked.
Fort Austin has been fitted with two Phalanx CIWS guns, on the two wings of the bridge, prior to sailing with the Cougar 13 task force. You can see them in the photos by Cherbourg Escale

The concept art released for MARS SSS clearly shows a Ro-Ro ramp access (closed), a couple of LCVP MK5s with cranes, a triple hangar for Merlin helicopters and a large, two-spot flight deck. The stern view shows what seems to be a well dock, open for boat operations. Two H-RAS masts are present on the port side, while only one is provided starboard. The RAS masts on the port side are positioned to be able to link up to aircraft lifts openings in the hull of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers.

Fort Victoria is newer and larger. Designed as a single-stop support vessel capable to provide both fuels and dry stores, she can carry some 70.000 barrels of fuels and oils along with 6234 cubic meters of dry stores. She displaces more than 32.000 tons. She can operate with up to five helicopters and is fitted with a couple of Phalanx CIWS guns for self defence but is no longer compliant to law as she is a single hulled oiler. 

Her sister, Fort George, was decommissioned in the SDSR 2010.

Roles for MARS SSS
The MARS SSS depicted by the concept art is a large, ambitious vessel, but far less compromised and overtasked than other proposed or realized European “Joint Support Ships”, as the JSS normally combines tanker, solid stores and RO/RO amphibious role all in one.
MARS SSS would at least be relieved of the tanker role, and the vast cargo holds needed for solid stores, including ordnance, are relatively compatible with the need for a RoRo deck, with ramp, and even with a well dock. The well dock would be the best way to ensure that the vessel can send stores and vehicles to the forces ashore, in mostly every sea condition, thanks to the controlled environment of the enclosed dock.

The well dock would also enable MARS SSS to embark some landing crafts or the future Force Protection Craft when deploying as part of the Response Force Task Group. This capability, along with the Ro-Ro cargo deck, is important because it would make up for the future loss of the four LCVP MK5s that HMS Ocean currently brings to the party. Ocean also has a (relatively small) space for vehicles and stores, which can be driven onto landing crafts thanks to a ramp leading down to a “steel beach” in the stern, which during operations is expanded with the use of a pontoon that the ship carries, folded, on her flight deck.

The new carriers don’t have a reserved space for the embarkation of vehicles, have no ramp and no steel beach. If vehicles for the amphibious force are to be carried, they have to be craned onto the flight deck and moved into the hangar with the aircraft lifts. During an amphibious assault, such stores and vehicles would only reach the shore if they were Chinook or Merlin portable, as under slung delivery would be the only realistic option. It is not clear yet if the boat bays of CVF are compatible with LCVP MK5s. The carriers have a boat boarding area in the stern, which can be reached by soldiers and sailors thanks to stairs. Marines could use this, weather permitting, to climb aboard landing crafts coming from the LPD and LSDs in the task force, but an additional well dock and more landing craft capacity would no doubt be welcome during operations.  

HMS Ocean's ramp and steel beach. The poonton in the water is carried, folded, on deck, and deployed by crane. HMS Ocean has a relatively small vehicle deck and carries four LCVP MK5. The aircraft carriers that will have to replace her due to the impossibility of funding a dedicate replacement do not match these particular capabilities. MARS SSS could step in and remedy to this.
Concept Art showing the hangar of the CVF carriers

The boat boarding area

MARS SSS is shown carrying two LCVP MK5s on davits, which could be replaced by Force Protection Crafts were the boats to be more adequate to the missions, but a single-bay well dock capable to take a LCU or support operations of the LCVPs and FPCs once they are lowered in the water would be a major enhancement.

The well dock would also be particularly useful in the Gulf. For what I can see now, I can only guess that the Royal Navy will be busy in Operation Kipton (the enduring presence in the Gulf of minesweepers and support assets) for many more years. And according to MOD data, the current minesweepers will not begin to be replaced by new vessels before 2028, which means that well into the 2030s they will need intimate support of a mothership whenever they go. The Hunt and Sandown are excellent ships, perfect for their job, but aren’t really deployable and only have a logistic endurance out at sea of around 14 days.

That has forced the Royal Navy to constantly support the four ships in the Gulf with a larger support vessel capable to pass on fuel and stores. With the risk of hostilities in the area always being so high, a flight deck for helicopters is also badly needed, being helicopters excellent to detect and fight back fast attack crafts that could, in theory, swarm out of Iran very quickly were things to get hot. UAVs and force protection boats are also constantly in action to keep the force secure, and all the requirements of these supporting elements have made large, capable support vessels simply indispensable.
The US Navy converted an old LPD, the USS Ponce, into a capable Afloat Forward Staging Base, and this vessel provides command, control, communications, a large flying deck for helicopters and a well dock for boat operations.
The Royal Navy cannot afford such a top class solution, and is consequently forced to constantly commit one third of its LDSs to the “Seabase” role in the Gulf: one of the Bay class LSDs is always serving in the Gulf, looking after the minesweepers, and this has a very evident knockout effect on the amphibious capabilities of the UK. The madness of withdrawing Largs Bay from service, selling it to Australia, only made things worse. 

USS Ponce and Cardigan Bay together in the Gulf, followed by the minesweepers that they support and protect. Cardigan bay shows the hangar she has finally been fitted with, and the Marinised Land Phalanx Weapon System installation on the cargo deck.
The Bays have been steadily increasing their capabilities in these years: from very simple, lightly-equipped LSDs, they have been evolving into capable seabases. They are being fitted with Data Link 16 and complete communications suites removed from the retired Type 22 Batch 3 frigates. They are getting remotely-controlled 30mm gun turrets as the combat vessels in the fleet, and Cardigan Bay, the ship currently in the Gulf, finally also sports a prefabricated hangar structure on deck, which finally gives adequate protection to embarked helicopters and UAVs and their ground crew as maintenance is carried out. Possibly, the other two vessels will also get hangars of their own in the next future: Mounts Bay has been used as an auxiliary aviation ship while RFA Argus was undergoing her latest refit, and she had to resort to walls formed on deck with empty containers to provide some shelter to the helos. A solution not unlikely the emergency fitting of Atlantic Conveyor for the Falklands War!
Cardigan Bay has been serving as a base for US UAV teams, and is almost certainly going to be the first Royal Navy ship to get the newly ordered, much awaited Scan Eagle drones the MOD finally funded. Cardigan Bay will, at least for the next future, only have a contractor-owned, contractor-operated Scan Eagle task-line, with a second task-line to be made available for embarkation on Type 23 frigates afterwards. Hopefully, it is only the first step towards a greater availability of UAVs for the Royal Navy.
A couple of Diving Teams and reconnaissance parties with REMUS unmanned underwater vehicles also operate from the Bay, which can provide an excellent base to all boats with her rafting system and well dock. Finally, the ship also embarks a Role 2 Medical Team: a tri-service, deployable surgical field hospital.

The Bays are also getting fitted with Phalanx CIWS Block 1B, eventually uplifted to Baseline 2 standard, the latest and most capable. initially the Bays deploying to the Gulf have been fitted with “Marinised Land-Based Phalanx Weapon System" (MLPWS), which are, put simply, the Centurion C-RAM guns that the British Army deployed to Basra during operations in Iraq. Removed from the trailers and bolted to the cargo deck of the Bays, the MLPWS have been the solution so far, but Lyme Bay now shows, first of the three sisters, properly integrated Phalanx guns installed in the intended positions on the superstructure, over the bow and overlooking the stern. It is hoped that the other two ships will be eventually fitted out to the same standard.  

This close up better shows the temporary solution represented by the MLPWS Phalanx fit

RFA Lyme Bay, deployed on Cougar 13 right now, shows, for the first time, a properly integrated fit of Phalanx CIWS guns, placed in the intended, originally Fitted For But Not With positions.

The Bays could have been fitted with Goalkeeper mounts, but the Royal Navy is standardizing on Phalanx and will withdraw from service all Goalkeeper mounts by 2015. The positions evidenced in the photos above have now been used for Phalanx, at least on Lyme Bay. It is hoped that all three ships will be similarly outfitted. A careful look at the photos will also show that Cardigan Bay and Lyme Bay show new radomes, probably part of the Data Link 16 and communications fit coming from the withdrawn Type 22 frigates.

The hangar fitted to Cardigan Bay is built by Rubb Buildings Ltd. Australia acquired one of these hangars and had it fitted on the ex-Largs Bay, now HMAS Choules, in the photo.
Improved weapons fit: this photo shows Cardigan Bay fitted with 30mm guns an M134 miniguns

The Royal Navy also maintains in the Gulf and Indian Ocean a variety of other support vessels, including a tanker, the forward repair ship RFA Diligence (working hard in support of the SSN presence constantly maintained “East of Suez”) and the Auxiliary Oiler Replenisher (AOR) Fort Victoria.
MARS SSS, if fitted with a well dock, could tick all the boxes and provide a perfect seabase for the UK to maintain in the Gulf Area. Instead of maintaining a tanker, an LSD and an AOR in the area, the Royal Navy would possibly be able to cover both the AOR and minesweeper support roles with the same ship, releasing the LSD back to its main role as amphibious vessel.
The vast hangar, the large flight deck, the unmatched capacity for stores and the well dock would make MARS SSS perfect to sustain the minesweepers and the other vessels working in the Gulf. Hopefully, the Riverine Command Boats employed by the Americans from Cardigan Bay’s well dock would in time be replaced by british Force Protection Crafts, increasing the security of the force in the area. 

Boats in the well dock 
American Riverine Command Boats (CB90s) operating from a british Bay vessel in the Gulf. The CB90 has been evaluated by the Royal Marines as a possible base for the Force Protection Craft.

The requirement for extensive, excellent Forward Aviation Support capability is nothing new for this kind of unit in the Royal Navy. The current Fort-class vessels themselves have very extensive capability in this field, with up to 5 or 6 Merlin helicopters able to work from the ships’s deck and facilities. The ability to support a large number of helicopters from the new vessels (the concept art suggests hangar bays for three Merlin, with a big, Chinook-capable, two-spot flight deck) would maximize their capability to operate, even alone, on complex constabulary tasks during peacetime. During high-intensity ops, the ability to embark ASW helicopters would relieve the carrier’s flight deck from some of the pressure, and this is crucially important following the cuts the Royal Navy has suffered: with the carriers now condemned to be replacements for the LPHs as well, they will be required to carry a lot of machines and stores and men. Even as big as they are, in a major operation requiring both a high number of jets and capable amphibious forces with their helicopters they will be filled to capacity quite quickly. If there’s one certainty about aircraft carriers, simply put, is that they are never quite big enough.

Three MARS SSS ships could be tasked to provide one vessel “on station” in the Gulf, and another to assign to the RN Task Group. If MARS SSS was built to the specifications suggested by the concept art, the new vessel would be able to act as a major force multiplier in both roles.
Speaking about Type 26, Cmdr. Ken Houlberg, Royal Navy who, until August 2012 , was the Capability Manager for Above Water Surface Combatants at the MOD, said:

“There will be no more destroyers or frigates. There will be combat ships.”

Similarly, it looks like the RN hopes to build more than simple replenishment ships. Seabases would be a better description.

Cutting costs and complexity with a steel beach?
The usefulness of the well dock is pretty much unquestionable. But in an age of budget difficulties, its cost and the complexity that it adds to the design of the vessel is what caused the most perplexity. It is possible that cost cutting would remove the dock and replace it with a simpler “steel beach”, with a ramp leading down to the water from the RoRo deck. It would be a serious reduction in the capability to support boat and landing craft operations in hostile weather and sea conditions, but it would take less space, less money and it would be much simpler to add in the design.

A good example of support vessel sporting a RoRo deck complete with steel beach is the new multipurpose dutch Joint Support Ship, the Karel Doorman. This 205 meters long, 28.000 tons vessel is an immensely impressive beast, even if it is the result of many compromises. It can support ships at sea thanks to two RAS masts and a 40 tons crane. It can carry 730 cubic meters of ammunition pallets for some 400 tons of ordnance and 1000 cubic meters of dry stores. She carries 8000 cubic meters of fuel for warships, 1000 cubic meters of aviation fuel and 450 cubic meters of potable water.
In addition to all this, she has 2350 lane meters of Ro-Ro deck, complete with ramp of access and steel beach in the stern for cargo transfer onto landing crafts.
She sports a two-bay operating theatre as part of her medical facilities. She carries a couple of LCVP landing crafts as well as other boats, and she is equipped with an integrated I-Mast with a sensor fit comparable to that of combat vessels. For self defence, she is fitted with two Goalkeeper CIWS, two Oto Melara MARLIN turrets with 30mm guns, four Oto Melara HITROLE remote weapon stations with 12.7 mm machine guns and four SRBOC decoy launchers.
Finally, she has a huge hangar for six NH90 medium helicopters (folded) or two Chinooks unfolded, which can make good use of the huge 80 x 30 meters flight deck. 

The dutch JSS shows the stern "steel beach", right near the opening of the RoRo access ramp

Design detail of the steel beach

An image of the hull of the JSS during her building. The large steel beach is very evident

Her max payload is 10.600 tons, of which up to 5000 tons can be made up by armored vehicles and/or Ro-Ro deck stores. Her crew numbers between 150 and 175 men, with accommodations for 300 people on board. Her max speed is 18 knots, with an endurance of 10.000 nautical miles at 15 knots cruise speed.

The vessel is incredibly impressive and can prove its worth in many different operation scenarios and roles. Its Ro-Ro deck and steel beach provide a visual example of what could be put on MARS SSS, even if, for the reasons covered earlier, a full well dock is desirable.

A capable replenishment ship 
That is not to say that MARS SSS is not primarily thought to be an excellent replenishment vessel, optimized to support the new aircraft carriers, even in high intensity operations. In this that is their primary role, the new ships will be aided by the new Rolls Royce Heavy Replenishment At Sea (H-RAS) equipment, which will increase the current transfer capability of some 2 tons to larger, bulky pallets of five tons each. 
A working H-RAS system has been built on land at the HMS Raleigh base, which is being used to validate and trial the new system. The facility will then be used to train RFA and Royal Navy sailors in RAS procedures. 

RAS operations today with Fort vessels.
H-RAS will shape the new vessels, since their design and internal configuration will be largely determined by the need to move around such bulky loads, sustaining the far higher pace of RAS operations that the more than doubled payload transfer capability will make possible. Receiving such large, heavy loads in one go will be challenging for the supported ships, as well. It is likely that frigates and destroyers will mostly continue to receive the smaller pallets, unless Type 26’s design is optimized for the new system.
The larger payload capability will be crucial mostly for the new aircraft carriers. Currently, the standard RAS pallet is a 1000 x 1200 mm NATO base, with a loaded weight of around 1,8 ton. Resupplying an aircraft carrier during high intensity operations is a challenging task, as right now the transfer rate would be about a couple of 1000 lbs bombs with each pallet, for example.
H-RAS is meant to allow the transfer of 25 loads, each of 5 tons, per hour, while the ships travel at around 10 knots, with a gap from hull to hull of 50 or 55 meters. The improvement is dramatic. It is fair to assume that, if MARS SSS was replenishing HMS Queen Elizabeth during a major operation, some of the weapons could be passed to the carrier already strapped to Highly Mechanized Weapon Handling System-compatible skid pallets, which would then be lowered into the carrier’s deep holds and would be readily available to be picked up by the moles of the HMWHS system.

The 5 tons payload capability will also be crucial to enable the transfer of the F35B’s spare engines, enclosed in their transport containers. The current RAS systems are unable to move the heavy, bulky containers, and this would complicate the life for the embarked air group, requiring a greater number of spare engines to be immediately available on the ship.
The increased capacity of the H-RAS system will also be of great help in moving other heavy, bulky loads, such as Storm Shadow cruise missiles, which should be part of the future arsenal of the british F35Bs: enclosed in its shipping container, a single Storm Shadow weights 2150 kg and is well over 5 meters long. 

Storm Shadow missile being pulled out of its shipping container
The Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers will not have big problems in dealing with the new, bulky loads coming in, since they will adopt the same technique used by the US Navy, receiving the stores directly in the hangar, via the openings of the aircraft lifts. You can see a video and some photos of this evolution, as done by the US Navy. The main difference being that they call it Underway Replenishment (UNREP). 

US Navy UNREP operations aboard supercarriers

Both MARS Fleet Tanker and MARS Solid Support Ships are obviously configured to optimally support the new carriers. MARS FT, for example, has two RAS masts on the starboard side, so that it can easily link up to the two RAS fuel receiving stations on the port side of the QE-class carriers.
The MARS SSS vessel, instead, has two H-RAS masts on the port side, spaced out to coincide with the openings of the aircraft lifts on CVF’s starboard side.
CVF also seem to have another RAS fuel receiving station, under the forward island, on starboard side. 

Model trials of MARS Fleet Tanker and QE-class carrier, showing the RAS Masts and the two receiving bays on the carrier.

This curious image shows the french PA2, once planned to be built on the same design as the british CVF, receiving fuel at the RAS station under the forward wing while also receiving pallets of dry stores through the forward aircraft lift opening. The supply ship seems to be an AEGIR AOR design. None of the depicted vessels will enter french navy service, but the image is interesting as it depicts what will happen with CVF.

Another old image, courtesy of, showing H-RAS at work delivering containerized stores into the hangar of a CVF carrier.

This graphic, once released by the MOD as part of the bidding call for MARS FT, has been preserved by The small arrows indicate the RAS stations. On CVF we can see the two fuel-receiving stations on port side. Two arrows clearly indicate the aircraft lifts openings as well, for H-RAS, while a fifth arrow signals another fuel receiving station.

MARS SSS can and should be more than just a "solid replenisher" ship. In a navy hit so savagely by cuts, each ship must be able to cover multiple requirements whenever this is possible and efficient. It would of course be better to have more ships, and a neat separation of roles. But this is financially impossible in the current climate. And anyway, the british armed forces have sustained cuts so savage that realizing the once planned combination of two large replenishment vessels and three "seabases" would be realistically excessive. There wouldn't be amphibious forces nor aircraft carrier strike wings large enough to fully justify them. It is a sad truth. 
Freeing the Bay LSDs from the duties of Operation Kipton, on the other hand, would be a major achievement that would reinstate higher capabilities for the UK's amphibious force.

MARS SSS is a key component of a navy which is shrinking in size but not in ambition. So long as the UK aims to remain a globally engaged country, it needs expeditionary forces. And MARS SSS is a fundamental component of them. In "seabase" configuration, its usefulness is maximized in all roles. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Moving the Protected Mobility Fleet into Army 2020

The Protected Mobility Fleet procured under UOR process and now destined to bea n important part of Army 2020, is due to be given a new wealth of life and modifications. Mastiff, Ridgback, Wolfhound and, down the weight ladder, Husky, Jackal and Coyote, are all due to get important roles within Army 2020.
In particular, Mastiff and Ridgback are expected to be used to mechanize three large infantry battalions, one for each Reaction Force brigade. Wolfhound will continue to carry on important logistic and support roles.

Sheperd News is reporting that an important program of modifications is due to finished by mid-2016 over the Mastiff, Ridgback and Wolfhound fleets. This program of work includes uplifting the older, worn-out and less performing Mastiff 1 to Mastiff 2 standard, and also includes conversion work to change an unspecified number of Troop Carrying vehicles into Communications and Command vehicles.
The contract notice says

Short description of the contract or purchase(s):
Armoured military vehicles. To provide Fleet Conversion services for the Army's Protected Mobility (PM) fleet of vehicles to achieve the correct variant mix to meet the requirements of the Army 2020 (A2020) Force Development Strategy, against the following vehicle types, hereafter known as 'The Platforms'.

Mastiff – all variants,

Ridgback – all variants,

Wolfhound – all variants,

Fleet Conversion.

Currently envisaged deliverables to include, but not be limited to:

— Mastiff Troop Carrying Variant (MAS TCV) to Mastiff Enhanced Communications Variant (MAS ECV) Conversion,

— Ridgback Troop Carrying Variant (RBK TCV) to Ridgback Command Variant (RBK CV) Conversion,

— Wolfhound Explosive Ordinance Disposal (WHD EOD) variant to Wolfhound Military Working Dog (WHD MWD) variant Conversion,

— Mastiff 1 to Mastiff 2 Conversion.

Note that none of the variants mentioned are new. The Mastiff 2 Enhanced Communications Variant is already in service. Work to outfit this variant, as well as the Ridgback Command Variant was done in 2010 by General Dynamics UK.
These variants are among several others that are less known that the standard troop carriers. The MOD in 2010 stated, via DESIDER magazine, that "just under 200" Mastiff 2 had been procured since December 2008, in six variants:

- Troop Carrying Variant (making "more than half" of the fleet)
- Battlefield ambulance
- Protected Eyes
- Interim Electronic Countermeasures
- Interim EOD (at least 23)
- Enhanced Communications Variant

There is even a RAF Regiment variant of the Mastiff, the PRAETORIAN, which in itself very closely resembles the Mastiff PROTECTED EYES, the command vehicle for the Talisman route clearance convoys. They appear to be fitted with the same ROTAS eletro optic sensor turret on telescopic mast and with the same M151 Protector Remote Weapon Station. PRAETORIAN isn't listed among the variants, possibly because it is counted together with Protected Eyes. EDIT: observing the photos better, front crew doors are open, which suggest that PRAETORIAN is built on Mastiff 3, not on Mastiff 2. This could explain why it does not figure among Mastiff 2 variants.

Mastiff 2 Protected Eyes, leading a Talisman convoy during training. Beautiful photo by Rick Ingham, all credits due to him.
A photo of the PRAETORIAN Mastiff. The open crew door is visible, and it suggests that the vehicle is actually built on Mastiff 3, not on Mastiff 2

The Enhanced Communications Variant carries the BOWMAN Enhanced Communications Suite, comprising HF and VHF radio, plus satellite communications. A similar suite equips the Ridgback command vehicle.

Evidently, however, the vehicles available in these specialist variants aren't enough to meet the requirements of the Army 2020 force structure, so a number of conversions are needed. It would appear likely that these conversions will mostly be done to Mastiff 2 and Mastiff 1 uplifted to MK2 standard, leaving the more modern and capable Mastiff 3 (around 100?), which offers greater mobility, for the troop carrying role.

The Mastiff 3 in fact introduced a more powerful engine, assisted by a gearbox with six speeds instead of five. Increased braking power is also available, while comfort and ease of embarkation for the two crew members and eight dismounts is given by a roof height increased by 7 inches and by opening armoured front doors.  

American sources suggest that the UK has bought a total of 314 Mastiff vehicles, all MKs, all variants.
The Wolfhound order total sits at 125, on two separate contracts.
The Ridgback order was for 154 vehicles.
For obvious reasons, it is likely that not all of them will be useable and retained once their use in combat operations in Afghanistan ends.

It is curious to see that Wolfhound EOD variants are apparently considered excess to requirement, while a greater number of Military Working Dogs pods are required. This might indicate that the EOD regiments have settled on different platforms for their needs (Mastiff itself, perhaps?) while the Military Working Dog regiment is happy with its own variant.
Again, both variants are in fact already in service: according to MOD sources, at least 44 pods for the transport of dog kennels have been procured, alongside an unspecified number of EOD pods. The wolfhound is also used for general, tactical transport duties and has also been used in theatre as towing vehicle for the L118 Light Gun. In fact, three variants exist: general purpose flatbed cargo carrier, EOD and Military Working Dog carrier.

The MOD also procured 30 surplus american Cougar 6x6 and 4x4 vehicles, to be used as basic training fleet. The Cougar 6x6 is the base vehicle which, with many extensive modifications, turns into Mastiff, while the 4x4 is the base for Ridgback. These 30 vehicles, known as Cougar Training Vehicles (CTV) might or might not be kept in the long term as training fleet. The uncertainty comes from an earlier contract notice put out by the MOD for the provision of: 

Post Design Services (PDS) including the design and development of modifications and the delivery of associated mod kits, against the following vehicle types, hereafter known as “The Platforms”.

— Mastiff – All variants;
— Wolfhound – All variants;
— Ridgback – All Variants;
— Roll Over Drills and Egress Trainer (RODET);
— Possibly, Cougar Training Vehicles (CTV);
— Possibly, Buffalo – All Variants;
— Possibly, CHOKER Mine roller System.
Note that in the "possible" platforms are not mentioned in the newer contract notice. This could mean a separate contract will eventually follow, but among the possible meanings there is also the intention of the MOD not to continue investing in this valuable equipment. This would be particularly painful in the case of Buffalo Rummage A2 and Rummage A2 MK2 (improved, safer and 1 ton heavier), as these are fundamental pieces of the Talisman route-clearance convoys. Abandoning CHOKER would also be quite a waste of equipment which continues to have a value, was high in demand until very recently and would again be in high demand as soon as the armed forces were once more dealing with the IED and mine menace. 

Buffalo Rummage A2 towing a PANAMA unmanned Land Rover with IED search equipment. The future of the excellent Talisman "system of systems" remains unclear. What is the Army planning to do with it?

Following the evolution of the Protected Mobility Fleet and its ancillary equipment, such as mine rollers and other kit, will be an important (and challenging) part of studying, analyzing and surveying the fate of the British Army.
At least, the variety of combat proven variants already available means that the Cougar-derived family is the perfect base for building a capable fleet covering all the key roles. That's very important because many of these roles truly need modern solutions rolled into service.
It is also important because, while we are promised that FRES UV will replace Mastiff in the mechanized battalions by around 2025, history reminds us that the 6x6 "super-trucks" could end serving the Army for a far longer time.

In the meanwhile, other vehicle fleets are being brough back home, and restored to full efficiency to return in service.