Mil­i­tary With Bob Mor­ri­son

Bob Mor­ri­son un­cov­ers the rea­son be­hind the con­cep­tion of this unique Dis­cov­ery­based Su­pacat SUV 6000 and VIPEX trailer

Land Rover Monthly - - Contents -

An Un­der­wa­ter Sur­veil­lance Sup­port Ve­hi­cle that would also make a great ex­pe­di­tion camper

I DO like a good co­nun­drum, and this shiny black for­mer Royal Navy 6x4 Dis­cov­ery and Per­son­nel, Ac­com­mo­da­tion and Trans­porta­tion (PAT) trailer com­bi­na­tion, ad­ver­tised in spring by dis­posal agents Witham Spe­cial­ist Ve­hi­cles on be­half of UK MOD, was most cer­tainly one of those.

Dur­ing my re­search into this in­ter­est­ing combo, var­i­ously de­scribed as an Ex­pe­di­tion Ve­hi­cle with Event Sup­port Trailer and an Un­der­wa­ter Sur­veil­lance Team Ve­hi­cle, I must ad­mit I fol­lowed a few red her­rings but my gut re­ac­tion to what this dream Land Rover might have been used for even­tu­ally proved to be cor­rect.

In ser­vice from 2014 un­til just a few months ago, this unique 6x4 Dis­cov­ery 4 and triple axle VIPEX Ven­turer trailer car­ried the ser­vice reg­is­tra­tion plate 46RN00, which is the first in­di­ca­tor to its mil­i­tary own­er­ship. Last year the Royal Navy hosted the mas­sive multi­na­tional Un­manned War­rior ’16 ex­er­cise and demon­stra­tion, at the con­clu­sion of a pro­tracted pro­gramme of UUV (Un­manned Un­der­wa­ter Ve­hi­cle) tri­als, and I had a hunch that this in­trigu­ing one-off prob­a­bly had some­thing to do with the process. I now reckon I was right.

Be­fore delv­ing fur­ther into the mil­i­tary use of this ar­tic­u­lated trac­tor and trailer pack­age, which I ap­pre­ci­ate is likely to be of less in­ter­est to some read­ers than to our exmil­i­tary Land Rover buffs, I am go­ing to delve into the spec­i­fi­ca­tions and good­ies. As ex­pe­di­tion campers go, this one will quite prob­a­bly whet the ap­petite of many who dream about that ul­ti­mate long-dis­tance Land Rover trip across con­ti­nents. Un­for­tu­nately it will most likely end up in more mun­dane cir­cum­stances af­ter be­ing pro­cured by a race team or a com­pany which reg­u­larly dis­plays at events. Al­ter­na­tively, with a few mi­nor tweaks to the trailer, it could end up as a race­horse or show-jump­ing sup­port ve­hi­cle.

Start­ing with the ve­hi­cle, this is an SUV600 con­ver­sion by mil­i­tary ve­hi­cle de­sign­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers Su­pacat, of Dunkeswell in Devon, and is a sib­ling of their 6x4 fire ten­der which I cov­ered back in our May 2014 is­sue. Al­though Su­pacat car­ried out the Dis­cov­ery con­ver­sion, and also sup­plied one of their 6x6 MKIII All Ter­rain Mo­bile Plat­forms (ATMP) to go

“This one will prob­a­bly whet the ap­petite of many who dream about that ul­ti­mate Land Rover trip”

in­side the trailer, they were not the prime con­trac­tor for the project and as they were un­able to dis­close who this was, be­cause they were con­trac­tu­ally tied, I had to fer­ret around to even­tu­ally track down At­las Elek­tronik as be­ing the sup­plier to MOD.

Of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment doc­u­men­ta­tion de­scribes the ve­hi­cle as be­ing a Land Rover Dis­cov­ery 4 with the ad­di­tion of a third axle and up­rated brak­ing com­po­nents and states an that an in­ter­change­able rear body and fifth wheel cou­pling has also been fit­ted. That rear body was sup­plied by Strongs Plas­tic Prod­ucts, whose copoly­mer rear ham­pers are found on a wide range of emer­gency ser­vices and pub­lic util­ity ve­hi­cles in the UK, and was in­tended to pro­vide a more mo­bile re­mote site sup­port ve­hi­cle for lo­ca­tions where the ten me­tre long trailer could not be taken.

In­ter­est­ingly, al­though both the MOD and their dis­posal agents list this ve­hi­cle as be­ing a 2014 Year Model Dis­cov­ery 4, I have a sneak­ing feel­ing from the chas­sis num­ber and the en­gine type that it might ac­tu­ally have come orig­i­nally down the line at Soli­hull as a late model Dis­cov­ery 3 and as part of the con­ver­sion process had Disco 4 pan­els added. Ei­ther way, the en­gine which pow­ers this spe­cial is the 2933 cc SDV6 tur­bod­iesel and it has eight-speed ZF au­to­matic trans­mis­sion with the usual ro­tary se­lec­tor and pad­dles on the steer­ing wheel.

In fact, in­ter­nally this Dis­cov­ery looks rel­a­tively lit­tle dif­fer­ent from any other, with the ex­cep­tion of the fold­ing ta­bles on the back of the front seats and a locker stack with ta­ble top in be­tween the two rear seats. As its four­man/woman crew needed to record a lot of data I sus­pect these were pri­mar­ily in­tended for work rather than pic­nick­ing. Talk­ing of data, there is also a tacho­graph be­tween the front seats as when driven with the trailer the 11 tonne gross train weight com­bi­na­tion be­comes a Light Goods Ve­hi­cle.

In­ter­nally the Dis­cov­ery may ap­pear pretty con­ven­tional though ex­ter­nally it is any­thing but, as that re­mov­able fifth wheel ne­ces­si­tates a trun­cated pas­sen­ger com­part­ment, ter­mi­nated just be­hind the rear doors, with a chas­sis ex­ten­sion and, of course, a third axle. This rear axle is not pow­ered, hence the 6x4 de­scrip­tion, and is there purely to spread the load when the ar­tic­u­lated trailer is at­tached to the fifth wheel. Yes, I know tech­ni­cally it’s not a wheel and if it was it would be the sev­enth, but the term for this type of con­nec­tor is his­toric and pre­dates the au­to­mo­bile.

If the trailer was not re­quired for the spe­cific mis­sion the crew were tasked with, or if the ve­hi­cle needed to go to a lo­ca­tion in­ac­ces­si­ble by the trailer, the fifth wheel and its sub­frame could be re­moved in a few hours and an ex­pe­di­tion ham­per dropped onto the rear chas­sis in its place. Man­u­fac­tured by Strongs, this drop-on body man­u­fac­tured from tough copoly­mer has a Robin­son slid­ing roller shut­ter door in the left body side and lift­ing doors to pro­vide over­head rain pro­tec­tion in the right side and rear; a two me­tre long ARB awning on the left side pro­vides weather pro­tec­tion to those us­ing the roller shut­ter mini-kitchen locker be­hind in which there is a fridge, mi­crowave and food cup­boards.

When used in ex­pe­di­tion mode with the Strongs rear body the Dis­cov­ery would carry a two-per­son James Baroud Evo­lu­tion roof tent (stowed in­side the trailer when LRM vis­ited) and it has a 240v ex­ter­nal hookup for ac­ces­sories and light­ing. Ac­cord­ing to MOD doc­u­men­ta­tion, as part of the mis­sion pack­age three portable gen­er­a­tors were also spec­i­fied and I sus­pect one of these would have been car­ried in the drop-on rear

body, with the oth­ers be­ing in the trailer.

Turn­ing now to the PAT trailer, which was man­u­fac­tured by VIPEX (now Neat Ve­hi­cles), this is a three-axle Ven­turer de­vel­oped specif­i­cally for the Royal Navy; oth­ers in this range, in­clud­ing World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion mo­bile clin­ics towed by De­fender 130s with fifth wheel, had just two axles and were much shorter. This spe­cific de­sign al­lowed a black Su­pacat 6x6 ATMP (All Ter­rain Mo­bile Plat­form) to be car­ried in the rear, on re­mov­able ramps, with a pair of REMUS 600 sub­mersible UUVS (Un­manned Un­der­wa­ter Ve­hi­cles) stowed un­der­neath on their own light­weight trailer. The ATMP was used as a re­cov­ery ve­hi­cle for the sub­mersibles and had a small Palfin­ger hy­draulic crane at the left rear.

In ad­di­tion to trans­port­ing the re­cov­ery ve­hi­cle and sub­mersibles, the PAT trailer could also be used as a self-suf­fi­cient of­fice, work­shop and ac­com­mo­da­tion fa­cil­ity, which could be towed to a re­mote site by the Dis­cov­ery and then parked af­ter its front legs had been wound down. With the ATMP and sub­mersibles un­loaded, us­ing light­weight ramps car­ried in the trailer, two bunk beds on each side wall could be dropped down to pro­vide sleep­ing fa­cil­i­ties and the sep­a­rate of­fice/ kitchen com­part­ment at the front end, with an­other fridge and mi­crowave plus wall mounted widescreen mon­i­tor, con­tained a ta­ble and seat­ing com­bi­na­tion which could be con­verted into a dou­ble bed.

Ac­cess to the doors in the left side of the PAT trailer, a sin­gle for the front of­fice and kitchen and a two-piece folder for the main com­part­ment, is by way of light­weight steps stowed in the rear and there are twin full height rear doors for un­load­ing the cargo. A wind-out awning with at­tach­able sides, run­ning the length of the main rear com­part­ment, gives ex­ter­nal work­ing and liv­ing space and a rooftop air-con­di­tion­ing pack pro­vides cli­matic con­trol in­side the trailer when it is closed down against the el­e­ments.

This Land Rover and trailer com­bi­na­tion has clearly been well thought-out, though hard­ened Land Rover off-road campers will be able to spot a few things which could have been done bet­ter if this com­bi­na­tion had been in­tended for ex­pe­di­tions rather than its spe­cific tasks. For ex­am­ple the elec­tric­ity sup­ply choice and the lack of legs to al­low the re­mov­able rear body to be sim­ply jacked up for speedy de-cou­pling. How­ever, this high spec­i­fi­ca­tion pack­age was de­signed to ful­fil a rather unique role rather than be­ing con­ceived as an ul­ti­mate camper.

So why was a Dis­cov­ery trac­tor and long thin PAT trailer pro­cured rather than a more con­ven­tional ar­tic­u­lated truck unit? My sus­pi­cion is that not only did the Royal Navy’s Mar­itime Au­ton­o­mous Tri­als Team (MASTT) want a ve­hi­cle ca­pa­ble of be­ing driven on an LGV rather than HGV li­cence, but they also needed a com­bi­na­tion which could be taken long dis­tances down cer­tain sin­gle track roads with pass­ing places which no HGV could tackle.

The prime con­trac­tor, as men­tioned ear­lier,

“My sus­pi­cions about this combo be­ing con­ceived for un­der­wa­ter tri­als sur­faced”

was At­las Elek­tronik, who dur­ing un­manned un­der­wa­ter and sur­face ve­hi­cle tri­als op­er­ated the ARCIMS (At­las Re­mote Com­bined In­flu­ence Minesweep­ing Sys­tem) at dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions around the UK. My gut re­ac­tion on first see­ing the SUV600 and PAT trailer was that it was most likely de­signed for use up at the BUTEC (Bri­tish Un­der­wa­ter Test & Eval­u­a­tion Cen­tre) ranges in the In­ner Sound to the north of Kyle of Lochalsh and, as any­one who has vis­ited the re­mote Ap­ple­cross Penin­sula or the is­land of Raasay on ei­ther side of the test range will know, only a nar­row com­bi­na­tion like this can be driven on roads in that part of the High­lands.

Fi­nal con­fir­ma­tion that my ini­tial sus­pi­cions about this ve­hi­cle com­bi­na­tion be­ing con­ceived for un­der­wa­ter tri­als sup­port even­tu­ally sur­faced, no pun in­tended, when I first un­cov­ered a sup­port con­tract ten­der re­quest on be­half of the RN Mine Coun­ter­mea­sures Hy­dro­graphic Ca­pa­bil­ity Project Team for the ve­hi­cles and as­so­ci­ated equip­ment and then saw a pho­to­graph of the black ATMP on the quay­side at Kyle of Lochalsh. This photo was taken by my good friend Trevor Shee­han at the me­dia fa­cil­ity held near the end of Un­manned War­rior last Oc­to­ber, which un­for­tu­nately I could not at­tend due to other as­sign­ment com­mit­ments.

Trevor does not re­mem­ber see­ing ei­ther the SUV600 or PAT there, and while he wasn’t fo­cussing on land ve­hi­cles but pho­tograph­ing sur­face ve­hi­cles and un­der­wa­ter sys­tems, that does not mean it wasn’t there. It could also have been at one of the more re­mote BUTEC fa­cil­i­ties, for ex­am­ple a small base with a slip­way up near Ap­ple­cross, which is a lo­ca­tion this work­ing com­bi­na­tion would be ideal for. How I wish I had been free to spend a cou­ple of days up in the West­ern High­lands dur­ing this in­ter­est­ing ex­er­cise.

Now to the big ques­tion. How much would this re­mark­able com­bi­na­tion cost you if you fan­cied us­ing it as the ul­ti­mate Land Rover ex­pe­di­tion ve­hi­cle. The guide price, set by the MOD and not Withams, is £85,000 plus VAT. Bear­ing in mind that a civvy ve­hi­cle of sim­i­lar age with nor­mal mileage would prob­a­bly set you back around 40K and this 6x4 has cov­ered well un­der 6000 miles, that guide price for ve­hi­cle, ex­pe­di­tion ham­per and trailer is prob­a­bly quite realistic.

If I were to win the lottery, which I re­alise is highly un­likely, I think I would buy the combo and then sell on the fifth wheel and trailer leav­ing just the four-seat 6x4 ex­pe­di­tion ve­hi­cle with Strongs rear ham­per and Baroud roof tent as my as­sign­ment trans­port. One can but dream.

From left to right: It is be­lieved this long, slim combo might have been in­tended for nar­row High­land roads; Dis­cov­ery front com­part­ment was pretty stan­dard but a tacho­graph was fit­ted; The fifth wheel can be re­moved in a few hours to al­low a camper body to be fit­ted

The Dis­cov­ery third axle is not driven and merely shares the load of the nine tonne GVW trailer

A Su­pacat ATMP and two sub­mersibles stowed in­side the trailer [© Nigel Townsend]

With fifth wheel re­moved this camper body can be fit­ted [© Richard Fen­ton]

Trailer front com­part­ment con­tains a multi-pur­pose kitchen / of­fice / bed­room

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