The TITAN Tactical Hot Refuelling Dispenser, French designation Vehicule Tactique d’Avitaillement, is a Special Forces Defender 130 conversion, writes Bob Morrison.
Our Senior Correspondent Carl Schulze first encountered this rare French Special Forces Land Rover at the Eurosatory 2012 defence expo in Paris, where he took a few reference photos, and when it reappeared at Eurosatory 2014 I grabbed the opportunity to do a photographic walk-round.
At the SOFINS 2019 Special Forces expo and conference, held near Bordeaux earlier this month, specialist refuelling solution providers TITAN DEFÉNSE were exhibiting a number of systems and I asked one of their sales team if he knew anything about the Vehicule Tactique d’Avitaillement, or VTA, which the company built on the Land Rover Defender 130 chassis around a decade ago. Not only did the company representative I approached know of these vehicles but, with the help of colleagues on the stand, he was actually able to find a rare English language product sheet on the vehicle and he also promised to email me an image of one of them operationally deployed in Africa.
By way of background: As of late April 2019 France has 5,600 military personnel deployed on External Operations (Opérations Extérieures) in the Sahel (Op BARKHANE) and the Middle East (Op CHAMMAL) plus 3,000 more deployed as military presence forces in four African nations as well as 1,250 serving on UN / EU / NATO missions and another 7,500 deployed around the globe to protect French Sovereign Territories. With over 17,000 of French troops serving in around 25 nations or states stretching from the Caribbean across Africa to the Pacific Islands, France’s Special Forces need robust and adaptable logistics if they are to speedily react around the globe when their country’s citizens and interests are threatened.
The VTA, of which three were built in 2010 and entered service the following year, is essentially a highly mobile and air-portable fuel pumping system to keep French Special Forces helicopters from 4e RHFS flying when deployed far from conventional refuelling facilities. One of these little vehicles can fill up two helicopters at a time from prepositioned flexible fuel pods or the fuel tanks of transport aircraft; the system is so simple that one soldier can operate it while one of the helicopter crewmen tops up his aircraft. It is even possible for a helicopter and VTA hot refueller to be flown forward over great distances inside a large military transport aircraft to a remote airstrip to vastly increase the helicopter’s range by using the fixed wing aircraft as a flying fuel station and the Land Rover as the pump.
The dispenser, which filters, meters and pressure regulates the fuel in accordance with aviation safety standards, has a single 20metre suction hose on a reel behind the driver for connection to the fuel bladder or aircraft tank and two 40metre fuel hoses on the right side and at the rear for the helicopters (or even light aircraft or RIBs). The whole system, which can operate in climate conditions from +50C down to -25C, is self-contained and all functions are duplicated for maximum reliability.
The base vehicle is a Core Model chassis cab Defender (with the heavy duty Otokar stretched D130 chassis) and has an overall length of 5050mm but retains the standard vehicle width of 2150mm. Empty weight is quoted as being 3,600kg, the Approach and Departure Angles are a respectable 39° and 30° respectively, and a Warn winch is fitted for self-recovery. Three fire extinguishers and a fire blanket are carried on the vehicle, but in between Carl and myself photographing the vehicle the latter was repositioned behind the driver. It would appear this may have been to do with an Earth spike being added to the door pillar in front of the Driver/Operator. Lashing shackles are fitted all round for air transportation.
The vehicle which Carl and I photographed at successive Eurosatory expos was on the SEA (Service des Essences des Armees) stand. SEA is a tri-service formation whose mission is to provide POL (Petrol Oil & Lubricants) support to the French Armed Forces on national territory, while serving in the French overseas territories and when on overseas operations. The French military’s Sole Fuel Support Provider, this unit is also responsible for the quality control of POL products, infrastructure and equipment in the field through testing and monitoring.
On the strategic side, SEA develops the forces’ POL support strategy, especially during an early entry phase of an operation, covering the whole supply chain from resource research to distribution to units. According to its mission statement, the formation:-
¤ Ensures supplies in hostile environments and guarantees service continuity in crisis situations.
¤ Provides quality control of products delivered to the frontline forces.
¤ Stores and provides resources to enable the former.
While discussing the VTA with TITAN DEFENSE at SOFINS 2019, they told us that the three vehicles they converted in 2010 are still providing sterling service – two are on constant call and the third is held in reserve – but the company is looking into ways of providing possible replacements on a different chassis now that the Defender is no longer in production. These rugged Special Forces Land Rovers will be a hard act to follow.
[ images © Bob Morrison unless noted ]
[ images © Bob Morrison unless noted ]