Land vehicles

‘Mobile Coffins’: How Motorsport Helped Engineers Save Lives

From 2004 to 2006 almost half of the UK’s fatalities from hostile action were personnel travelling in Snatch Land Rovers


The second episode of BFBS’s INTEL series explores the troubled history of the Snatch Land Rover and the eventual development of the Foxhound. Exclusive interviews and access combine to tell one of the British Military’s most important stories in recent memory. 

When British Land Rovers started rolling across the Middle East in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were an icon of the British Army. Wherever the Army went, green or beige or sometimes white Land Rovers would be found in numbers.

In many ways, they remain the workhorse of the military in the UK, and you have probably seen a convoy of them trudging their way up your nearest motorway.

It is rarer, though, to see Land Rovers on overseas deployments today. That’s because of IED’s and mines.

Between July 2004 and July 2006, almost half of the UK’s fatalities from hostile action, 20 of the 44 deaths, were personnel travelling in Snatch Land Rovers. 

Snatch Land Rover on show at Vehicle Study Day at Salisbury Plain.
Snatch Land Rover on show at Vehicle Study Day at Salisbury Plain.

The Foxhound

In 2010 the MoD announced that the Foxhound would replace the Snatch Land Rover. It was delivered to Afghanistan in 2012, where it is still being used by British Forces in Kabul.

The Foxhound offers both blast protection and mobility while maintaining a less aggressive posture.

Its V-shaped hull helps to deflect explosions away from the vehicle and its modular design means that future modifications will be easy to implement – whether turning it into an ambulance or a special forces variant.

Engineers tasked with developing a smaller vehicle with the protection of a Mastiff came up with a raft of solutions and took their inspiration from the motorsport industry.

Composite materials inspired by those used in Formula 1 were used to make the Foxhound’s protective pod, and the whole production line was modelled on the highly flexible ones used in racing – where to beat opposition teams, new developments need to be designed and implemented quickly.

The Foxhound arrives at RAFO Thumrait.
The Foxhound arrives at RAFO Thumrait.

Part of the team who worked on Foxhound - the team that kickstarted the entire project - are at Ricardo PLC, a company who also make engines for McLaren.

Paul Tarry, Director of Special Vehicles at Ricardo UK is quick to downplay his role in the project but not the vehicle’s importance.

He said the Land Rover “had its roles but the threats weren’t realised early enough”.

“So we had to get this vehicle out there to protect people."

“We started the vehicle in 2009 and delivered it in 2011.”

Paul explains: “To give us that protection… [it] was about protecting all the automotive components within a v-hull.

“That was the biggest automotive challenge… everything’s gotta be packaged within that v-hull, where you would usually see that on a standard truck on a ladder-frame chassis.”

The Foxhound’s design took inspiration from the Mastiff, which was already deployed in Afghanistan and was a modified version of the US Army’s Cougar vehicle.

It boasts 4-wheel-steering so that it can manoeuvre in small villages or in congested streets without causing damage.

It means that the Foxhound can go where other mine-protected vehicles – like the Mastiff – cannot.

Mastiff from Defense Imagery
Heavily armoured 6 wheeled Mastiff Protected Patrol Vehicle from 11 (EOD) Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps.

Despite the challenges of downsizing that protection, it was designed and delivered years faster than a standard defence vehicle would normally be.

It took just two years, whereas other defence vehicles could take 15. Another testament to how motorsport helped the Foxhound project.

“We were trialling vehicles while we were building production vehicles,” Paul said, “and we were learning from trials of any components that we were seeing problems with… before they were actually delivered.”

“Because we have a production team here responsible for building McLaren road car engines, those guys took over the build of the vehicle and we set up a facility … the vehicles were set up in a flowline … and we built 10 vehicles a week.

“We were also aware that the issue with military vehicles was in theatre. They’re going to breakdown, how quick can you put them right?” Paul said,

“So we used our motorsport experience to achieve quick-change components.”

“Anyone who understands motorsport from Formula 1 to rally cars, it’s about each year you’ve got a new platform coming out, you’ve got to work on the vehicle quickly because you’ve got to get it back out on the road, on the track.

“So we brought in our expertise… Formula 1 expertise for the composite body… and for the automotive, that was run by our chief engineer, Roland Jacob-Lloyd who has a background of rally motorsport.

“Trialing said that it was one of the best vehicles offroad… and from a protection point of view, for a vehicle that’s 7.5/8.5 tonne, I don’t think there’s another vehicle in the world that meets that vehicle.

“It meant a lot to us all because a lot of us in the military team had been involved in some of the Land Rover programs.”

For the full story of the Foxhound and how it came into service, watch the video here.

Cover photo credit: AP