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MLR Pt.12 – Pulse 130 Battle Field Ambulance

A brace of Land Rover Defender 130 'Pulse' Land Rover battlefield ambulances supporting 4 [UK] Multi-National Brigade during Exercise TRIDENT JUNCTURE 18 in Norway [©BM]

By far the majority of British Army Land Rovers deployed to Norway on the recent TRJE18 were Wolf 110 models but there were several Pulse 130 ambulances too, writes Bob Morrison.

 

One graphic released by UK MoD to illustrate the size of the British Army deployment on this massive NATO exercise, the largest held since the fall of the Iron Curtain, showed 25 of these distinctive shape Land Rovers were scheduled to participate. I cannot verify precisely how many did get out there, not least because I did not have the time or the opportunity to visit the main UK base or rear echelon formations during the twelve days I followed the LIVEX, but I was able to snap several of them up at the sharp end where they were mostly providing real time medical cover for the troops on manoeuvres.

 

Company cut-away diagram of the Pulse produced just prior to the 1996 contract award [© Land Rover]

When the vehicle which the manufacturer code-named Pulse 130, to differentiate if from the more militarised Wolf 90 and 110 models being developed in parallel but under a different UK MoD requirement, was being developed Land Rover still had a very efficient and knowledgeable Government & Military Operations team headed by the highly respected George Adams. Working closely with Marshall of Cambridge, who had a long history of producing ambulance conversions on various Land Rover versions, the GMO team at Solihull were able to speedily produce a four-stretcher battlefield ambulance design when the UK MoD published its requirements following the return of forces from the Middle East following the 1991 liberation of Kuwait.

 

In February 1992 the Ministry of Defence announced: “A quantity of 500-800 all wheel drive ambulances are required to replace in-service vehicles over a six-year period with a planned life of at least 15 years. The requirement is for a reliable, durable, medium mobility (MMLC), all wheel drive, commercially based four stretcher battlefield ambulance suitable for use on and off roads.”

 

The two vehicles in the lead image photographed from the opposite side – both are designated Ambulance 4×4 4-Stretcher HS and entered service in 1997 [©BM]

A total of 27 companies, including several specialist coach-builders, initially expressed interest in this requirement but only IVECO of Italy (manufacturer of the 40-10WM), Steyr-Daimler-Puch of Austria (manufacturers of the Pinzgauer), and Land Rover of England (manufacturer of the Defender) were subsequently invited to provide vehicles for evaluative ‘Battlefield Mission’ trials. All three companies produced several prototypes for the MoD to trial – I seem to remember they ordered nine apiece – but the IVECO fell by the wayside quite early on, which surprised most observers as the base model 40-10WM had been reliable in national service when deployed in the gun tractor role towing light artillery pieces and was also well-liked by Italian airborne and marine infantry regiments when used as a light troop transport vehicle.

 

This Pulse ambulance photographed after the ‘Battle For The Bridge At Elvål’ has its Red Cross markings covered up [©BM]

The Land Rover contender, based on a Defender 130 chassis which has a close to 127” or 3225mm wheelbase, performed well but was outclassed by the SDP Pinzgauer when it came to off-road ability as the Austrian vehicle had both a central tubular spine, instead of a ladder chassis, and portal axles. This design difference, combined with its larger wheel diameter, gave it greater ground clearance and its locking differentials allowed it to plough through soft going.

 

As Red Cross markings are highly visible they are only used in the field when ambulances are in-role [©BM]

In the end, not just because the Pinzgauer was considerably more expensive, it was decided to stick with the Land Rover and in due course 800 were ordered on 18th January 1996. Much as the Pinz was a more capable off-roader, its abilities were not actually required of an ambulance (most casualties in transit require smooth and steady going rather than the ups and downs of severe off-roading) and as the Wolf 90 and Wolf 110 shared most mechanical components with the Pulse 130 it made sense to take advantage of the commonality cost savings.

 

A fourth ambulance, serving with 1 R IRISH, leaving the UK at the start of TRIDENT JUNCTURE 18 [©BM]

Capable of transporting four stretcher casualties or six ambulant patients, or a combination of two plus three, in addition to driver and medic up front (with another seat in the rear, accessible from the cab, if in-transit care was needed) the Defender 130 Battle Field Ambulance proved to be popular with both drivers and medics. Most units with a field role who have their own vehicle pool usually have one which they use as their duty ambulance on training exercises and these vehicles have a tendency to be hanging around somewhere in the background whenever there is live firing or training with a risk of physical injury taking place; several will also be found on the edge of the drop zone during parachute insertions.

 

Here the ambulance is driving onto a rail flatcar prior to travelling to Norway through the Channel Tunnel [©BM]

The Defender 130 ambulance has fared well in service, even being operationally deployed for base duties on both TELIC (Iraq) and HERRICK (Afghanistan) despite being unarmoured, but the rise of asymmetric warfare since the turn of the millennium and the ignoring of Red Cross / Crescent markings by some belligerents has led to a surplus of softskin ambulances as wheeled armoured ambulances were procured by the MoD. As a result, several hundred of the Pulse fleet were earmarked for conversion to Defender 130 double cab pick-ups (under Project HEBE) for use mostly as 81mm mortar carriers, though some early examples were sent to training teams in Africa and a few are in use at Larkhill with artillery units.

 

Although the Defender 130 Pulse has now been in service for over 21 years – i.e. already six years longer than Tender No. LV2b/179 stipulated – a few hundred are still in service undertaking their design role and they still have plenty of life left in them as they are at least the equal of any other softskin air-transportable battlefield ambulance currently in service with NATO nations.

{ images © Bob Morrison }

Page sponsored by HOBSON INDUSTRIES: UK Supplier of Genuine Land Rover Parts & Spares

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Ambulance LA05AA – here spotted in Chinchilla in Spain where 1 R IRISH were deployed on TRIDENT JUNCTURE 15 also as part of 4 [UK] Multi-National Brigade [©BM]

A small number of Defender 130 Pulses were waterproofed for amphibious deployments with 3 Commando Brigade – designation is Ambulance 4×4 4-Stretcher HS Winterised & Semi-waterproofed [©BM]

The waterproofed Pulse seen from the other side – it was in Albania supporting a NEO (Non-combatant Evacuation Operation) exercise in 2013 [©BM]

Left side – note strecher on lower rack and upper rack folded up exposing headrests for three sitting casualties and also central attendant’s seat with door through to front cab above it [©BM]

 

Here the left lower stretcher rack is slid forward – the upper, when used, could also be slid forward and tilted for easier loading and unloading [©BM]

 

 

 

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