Exercise KEVADTORM 2023 in May gave us a chance to catch up on Land Rover Defenders deployed to Estonia on Operation CABRIT, writes Bob Morrison.
When ordered by UK MoD in January 1996 the British Army’s newest Land Rover TUM HS or Truck Utility Medium (and TUL or Truck Utility Light) Higher Specification fleet, subsequently generally referred to as the Wolf because this was the manufacturer’s original Project Name, were anticipated as having a 15 year in-service life.
At time of announcement it was stated “the new Land Rover vehicles will enter service this summer and will be available for operational deployment in support of IFOR.” ~ i.e. the NATO-led Implementation Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was mandated from December 1996 until December 1997, before being replaced by SFOR (Stabilisation Force) for the next eight years. UK forces, and therefore their Land Rovers, played a major role in both SFOR and IFOR, though following the September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States the military campaigns in Afghanistan and then Iraq caused attention to shift more to the Middle East than the former Yugoslavia… then in 2014 the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula brought European security back into focus.
Following the March 2022 invasion of Eastern Ukraine (and the failed attempt by Russian Forces to capture the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv / Kiev from the north) NATO both beefed up its multinational defence forces in the Baltic region (the enhanced Forward Presence or eFP) and agreed to establish four more multinational battlegroups (in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia) to help defend the Alliance’s eastern flank. The United Kingdom continues to provide the bulk of the Estonian eFP reinforcement plus plays a secondary role in the US-led Polish eFP reinforcement force, as well as playing a minor role with the Eastern Flank enhanced Readiness or eR shield. This May both Carl and myself joined the NATO enhanced Forward Presence in Estonia for the simulated combat phase of the KEVADTORM / SPRING STORM 2023 exercise, which took place mostly on public land before culminating with force-on-force engagements on the Central Training Area near Tapa in Lääne-Viru County.
As on previous KEVADTORM (and SIIL) exercises held since NATO eFP troops first deployed to Estonia in 2017, small numbers of British Army Land Rovers again participated. However as the bulk of British vehicles deployed with the eFP Battle Group Estonia are armoured, Wolf Land Rover examples were very much in the minority and playing only support roles so there was nothing really unusual to report on this year… except, that is, for Station Wagon 30KK54. British military vehicle aficionados who know how the ERM (Equipment Registration Mark or number plate) system works will immediately ping that this is actually a pre-Wolf registration dating from the 1990 or 1991 fiscal year batches. Additionally, as far as I can ascertain no Station Wagons were actually built as part of the 1996 TUM / Wolf contract.
This particular vehicle, which was being used by an Army Media Comms team, was listed on a 2014 Freedom of Information request reply as being one of a batch of twelve designated as TUM HS GS 110 CREWCAB MEDIA OPS SUPPORT VEHICLE LANDROVER WITHOUT EEGR. According to the FOI listing its Date Into Service (aka ISD) was March 2006, with nine of its siblings dating from that month or the month before. However the other two on the list are shown as being in-service from March or May 1993, and my reckoning is that either the ten with a 2006 ISD were held back on reserve for about fifteen years or they went through a mid-life refurbishment. The example photographed in Estonia is clearly not a TUM HS (Truck Utility Medium Higher Specification aka Wolf) as it does not have Wolf front wings and if anything it looks more like a circa. 1991 TUM 4X4 PLAIN HARD TOP WINTERISED LANDROVER 110 DSL, so I wonder if this is not only one of the last surviving pre-Wolf Defender 110s in British Army service but is also already over 30 years old.
While on the subject of 30+ year old British Army Land Rovers such as that Media Ops Station Wagon, while perusing Unrestricted UK MoD documents I spotted that the projected OSD (Out of Service Date) for both the late 20th Century Land Rover R-WMIK and the Land Rover Battle Field Ambulance (i.e. Pulse 130) surviving fleets has been officially reset to 2030. In addition to the 8,000 Wolf 90 and Wolf 110 TUL / TUM HS order announced in 2006, UK MoD also ordered 800 of the Pulse 130 ambulances and although some of these were re-bodied under Project HEBE there are still quite a few serving in their original role and I was not surprised to spot one of these (KX82AA) supporting the UK eFP battlegroup during KEVADTORM 2023.
In addition to the British Army Land Rover fleet having its service life extended, the Iveco LMV aka PANTHER CLV (i.e. Lince / Lynx) fleet which eventually entered service from 2008, and which just a few years ago UK MoD was offering for sale as it looked likely that the Oshkosh JLTV was going to be procured for the British Army, now has a revised OSD of 2037. The PANTHER, like the Land Rover, the R-WMIK+ and the Defender-based CAV (i.e. Composite Armoured Vehicle*) plus the associated Snatch2B, is one of fourteen current British Army vehicle types now expected to be replaced by five different categories under the PMP or Protected Mobility Pipeline, basic details of which were announced at an Industry Engagement Day a few weeks ago. It appears from information provided at that event by UK MoD to interested parties that one of these five categories encompasses both Light Mobility Vehicle and GSUP (General Support Utility Platform) future requirements; the UK MoD 2022 Land Industrial Strategy document also indicates the same. The OSD (Out of Service Date) for Snatch 2b is currently 2024, though it looks likely this will be extended to 2030, and although CAV has currently has an OSD of 2027, a dotted timeline showing an ‘Interim CAV’ Land Rover with an OSD of 2037 is also depicted.
It will be interesting to see just what develops on the Land Rover replacement front between now and 2030, but bearing in mind how long it has historically taken the UK MoD procurement chain to bring bring vehicle requirements to fruition (some Urgent Operational Requirements excepted) I wonder if operationally deployed British Army troops will still be relying on Land Rovers produced in the 1990s well into the 2030s.
[images © Bob Morrison]
*Confusingly, UK MoD also uses the abbreviation CAV for Civilian Armoured Vehicles (i.e. discreetly armoured commercial SUV models). However as MoD has used a Defender-shape silhouette for CAV in presentations, we presume they mean Composite Armoured Vehicle.