Why an RB44?
I have been looking for way of displaying a command post for a while. As a result I have considered a number of vehicles but there is not one which fits the bill perfectly and does not have a significant drawback. I have considered three armoured vehicles – the Sultan, the FV432 variant and the Saxon – and two soft skin – the Land Rover and the RB44. At the end of this part there is a short video of the initial inspection of the vehicle.
Armoured vehicles are in a league of their own and you can imagine the difficulties. These range from transport through road registration to the need for a multi person crew to move safely. Given that I already have an armoured vehicle, I was not dissuaded from this just because it was armoured but the 432 was rejected immediately as they are a complete beast to work on and I have never been a fan of Cletrac steering. For those that have not come across this, it is a system where the tracks are both steered and braked by the tillers and effectively all that is between you and disaster is a friction band in an oil bath that you tighten on one side to steer and together to stop. If you lose steering you lose braking and vice versa. This system is now illegal in road going vehicles and that is one of the reasons the Bulldog upgrade has the Allison box with separate steering and brakes.
The Sultan is certainly capable of being run by a private individual, but it too much the same as the Scorpion and would not alleviate the difficulties I have. The Saxon, on the other hand is a strong contender. They are Bedford based, automatic and could at a pinch be driven by a driver and commander. They are not so limited in range as tracked vehicles and whilst they are not the most aesthetic, I think that they have a beauty of their own. The problem is that they are rare and phenomenally expensive. I have seen them going at £35000 but nothing less than about £15000. Most were sold off to a military customer who also hoovered up a lot of the spares so this was also rejected.
Small Soft Skin Vehicles
Land Rovers are quite easy – they use components that you can generally get in the civilian market and are large meccano sets which you can play around with to repair. They fit in to a garage – at a push you can use them as an every day vehicle and they are readily available as the 110 is being replaced by the Wolf . The drawback to me is that they are small. Even the 110 is cramped in the back and by the time you add the radio kit you are working in a pretty confined space. The weight of the radio puts towing a trailer on the limit and this is not helped by the 2.5 normally aspirated diesel. I am told that you can get out and walk alongside one going up hill and that 40mph with a full load is about the most you will get. The advice I was given was that I would be better to get a 200Tdi engine and swap it. However this added about a thousand to the purchase price and became a project in itself. I saw plenty of 200Tdi Discoveries on eBay, but they had all done 100000 miles plus and would probably need a rebuild if I was not going to store up trouble later on. Another one rejected.
It was my ex REME friend who suggested the RB44, and having looked on the web I thought they looked pretty good. They also had a rough beauty , a bit like a pumped up Transit with a pretty unbustable engine. They came in FFR which meant that suppression and the 24 volt system was already in place, and this would make fitting radio kit easier. I liked the communications shelter, it was big enough to sit in comfortably and also to sleep in should I need to. Some already had map boards, seats and lights fitted and they were designed to tow. Looking on the web, Withams had any number at fairly reasonable prices and the difference between that and a Land Rover was not too great. What could go wrong?
Actually, quite a lot. As I started to research in depth it became apparent that it was the most hated vehicle in the British army. I could not find anyone who had a good word for them, and most of the words seemed to be “dangerous”, “lethal” and “crap”. This was not good, and I spent a long time reading every posting I could and discussing the options with friends. It appeared that the initial design had an inbuilt flaw which resulted in a number of crashes as the vehicle had a tendency to veer to one side when braking. The whole fleet was taken off the road and a modification program instigated. There are conflicting accounts as to whether this was successful but it seems to have pacified the MoD. Nonetheless, it remained a cursed vehicle and was withdrawn pretty quickly. What I had to do was to decide whether it was the one for me.
The way I looked at it was that forewarned is forearmed. I was not likely to get into a truly tactical situation where I would operate at the limit of me and the vehicle. A bit of mud or wet grass would be the most off-roading I would do. Similarly as I have said before, there is a difference in attitude to a tool that is given to you to do a job and something that you have paid for and want to keep in as good a condition as possible. Hence I would be less likely to drive at high speed “just because it can” and I can spend as long as necessary to get the brakes adjusted properly. Drum brakes can work very well, provided that you respect them and realise that they are not the same as power assisted discs all round. I drive the Scorpion in the same fashion, and have also experience of the same issues in the Ferret which also relied on unassisted drums. Some of the accident reports indicated that the vehicles were grossly overloaded on exercise – a figure of six tons overweight on one occasion – and this again was not likely to be an issue with me. Overall then, I believed that by conducting a thorough risk assessment and sticking to the safety system I could deal with the RB44.
Finding one was quite easy; Withams had a selection and I found one which fitted the bill perfectly. The company were very helpful and made sure that as much of the original
electronics fit was retained as possible, and that I was happy with the vehicle. It is now with another company getting ready for its first registration and VOSA test and even though I bought it in October, I have not had a chance to climb all over it and see what can be fitted.
Link to Video showing the RB44 on Initial Inspection
In part 4 we discuss the C2 and C3I requirements of the vehicle and I sit the foundation licence….