MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, Calif. -- For the first time in its 338-year history, the British Royal Marines are getting ready to roll into battle rather than walk, float or fly.
A Royal Marine Trials Team is aboard MCAGCC performing the final phase of testing on the All-Terrain Vehicle (Protective), which is set to become the first armored vehicle in the Royal Marines' inventory.
The Viking, as the ATV(P) is known, is a highly-mobile, amphibious tracked vehicle that can operate in a wide range of terrain and climate conditions. The Viking consists of a front cab, for the driver, commander and crew, and a rear cab for carrying cargo, weapons systems or troops. The troop-carrying variant can deliver eight fully-loaded Royal Marines, plus the four-man vehicle crew, into combat. The Royal Marines are also testing a repair-and-recovery variant and developing anti-aircraft and anti-tank models.
Unlike most tracked vehicles, which have linked metal tracks, the Viking has tough, Kevlar-reinforced rubber tracks that can travel on any public street. The vehicle is also extremely easy to drive, with a steering wheel and automatic transmission much like a civilian automobile.
Royal Marine Major Jez Hermer, Viking Trials Team leader, said the peacekeeping role in which the modern British military often finds itself meant that the Royal Marines had to adapt new methods of projecting force. Until now, he said, the Royal Marines reached most of their objectives on foot.
"The Army was getting jobs that we weren't getting, and we weren't happy about that," Hermer said. The Royal Marines answer was the Viking, which they began developing with Hagglunds Vehicle of Sweden in 1995.
"We needed a vehicle that was air-portable by helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft, armored and truly all-terrain, able to operate in snow, sand, mud or mountains. It also had to be fully amphibious and able to drive on European roads, be fully defended with a weapons system and be able to carry at least 12 Marines," Hermer said. "A lot of defense contractors walked away saying they couldn't design a vehicle to those specifications."
Hagglunds Vehicle took up the challenge, working closely with the Royal Marines over the last seven years. The final product, the Viking, is similar to Hagglunds' BV 206, a lighter, less-powerful vehicle the U.S. Marine Corps uses in the snowy conditions of the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif.
"The unique thing about the Viking is that, from the word 'go' in 1995, a team of Royal Marines worked hand-in-glove with the manufacturer to get it how it is," Hermer said. "Virtually every feature of the vehicle has had input from the Royal Marines. This is the product of seven years of collaboration between the Royal Marines and Hagglunds Vehicle."
Hermer and his team, including two engineers from Hagglunds Vehicle, are wrapping up 18 months of tests for the final version of the Viking. That testing period has taken the testing team to sites all over the United Kingdom, as well as the 136-degree desert climate of Oman and the sub-zero temperatures of Norway and Sweden. The Viking has performed admirably in every condition, Hermer said. The vehicle gets its final exam this month, as the Trials Team employs the Viking with 40 Commando, a Royal Marine unit participating in Combined Arms Exercise 1-03.
The first Viking will hit the British fleet in February 2003. The Royal Marines have ordered 108 Vikings, which will enter full service in 2005, Hermer said.