The recent IDEB 2023 defence and security expo in Bratislava brought the chance to photograph Slovak Armed Forces Defenders, writes Bob Morrison.
Over the last four decades or so I have had the opportunity to photograph military Land Rovers used by many nations, and indeed it is over two decades since I first photographed this type of vehicle in Czech military service, but although I have worked a number of times with neighbouring Slovakian troops since shortly after Czechoslovakia amicably split into two countries on 31st December 1992 it was only earlier this month that I was finally able to snap their Slovak Army Defenders.
Slovakia was probably the last of NATO countries to convert to the Land Rover Defender, having mostly kept their Soviet era UAZ-469 light utility vehicle fleet running for two decades after achieving independence from neighbouring Czechia, formerly the Czech Republic, though when deployed on some NATO operations they used a small quantity of Mercedes-Benz Geländewagens for commonality. The bulk of their Land Rover utility vehicle fleet, believed to number less than two hundred vehicles, appear to be only slightly militarised Core Model Defender 110 Station Wagons registered for road use around 2012 to 2014. However at IDEB 2023 I was also able to look over, and photograph, both a four-door Defender 130 Double Cab with Quadtech shelter body built by Land Rover Special Vehicles and registered in 2008 and a three-door soft top Defender 110 pick-up with inward-facing bench seating in the rear which was registered in 2016; this was, of course, the last year of production of the original ladder chassis Defender, which was replaced from 2020 by the monocoque construction L663 ‘New Defender’ model.
As is only to be expected of 2007-onwards Model Year Land Rovers, the diesel engine used in the Slovak army vehicles is from the Ford Duratorq (aka Puma) range; the bulge in the bonnet being the external giveaway. From its VIN plate the D130 Double Cab has the earlier 2,402cc engine and I am presuming that the others have the later 2,198cc version, but I have been unable to confirm this as the VIN plate characters (which I snapped for reference) do not extrapolate on the online database. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that all three models use the 2.4 litre engine for commonality, but I suspect this to be unlikely.
In addition to the three different military Defender models displayed inside the INCHEBA exhibition halls in Bratislava, another Station Wagon was in static attendance outside the halls each day for the duration of the expo and a third example, sporting EUFOR markings, participated each afternoon in the dynamic display by 11th Mechanised Mechanised Battalion. All three D110 Station Wagons had bumper-mounted self-recovery winches, brush guards and raised air intakes (as did the other two models) plus full length roof racks. The D110 Soft Top had a side-hinged rear tailgate and swing-away spare wheel carrier and the D130 Double Cab, which was a specialist CBRN team vehicle, had a roof rack over the four-door cab roof.
Finally, although the ‘New Defender’ is built in Slovakia, at Nitra about 100km east of Bratislava, there was no Land Rover stand at IDEB 2023. To be honest, I did not really expect there to be one as I am increasingly thinking it unlikely that the new version will enter the military market again as a utility vehicle (both on price and complexity grounds). However, I did spot one of the stretched wheelbase (130) versions leaving INCHEBA on the afternoon of the last day and as this model is still comparatively rare I made sure I grabbed a quick snap for the archives.
[images © Bob Morrison 2023]