Page last updated at 15:08 GMT, Friday, 10 July 2009 16:08 UK

Q&A: Snatch Land Rovers

Snatch Land Rovers have been criticised for offering insufficient protection to British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The government says the lightly armoured vehicles will remain in use on the advice of senior commanders, but they will be quickly replaced by better-protected Snatch Vixen models.

What does the Army use them for?

Snatch Land Rovers are officially categorised as Protected Patrol Vehicles.

They are used in peacekeeping missions and other operations where troops need quick land transport.

Land Rover after an attack in Iraq in 2004
The Snatch Land Rover was specifically designed for Northern Ireland

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said tanks are often too big and too slow, cumbersome and likely to annoy civilian populations.

The Land Rovers are fortified with armour to offer the troops protection against explosions and ballistics.

And they also have electronic counter-measures (ECMs) - designed to detect roadside bombs before they explode.

Their use became widespread in Northern Ireland as a cheap and speedy way of transporting troops during the Troubles.

Why are they controversial?

A number of incidents in Afghanistan and Iraq have raised concerns about the safety of the Land Rovers.

The thin-skinned vehicles are designed to withstand small arms fire, but have been criticised for offering insufficient protection against roadside bombs.

At least 37 British soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan while using the vehicles since 2005.

Concerns over the vehicles have been raised by MPs, military personnel and the families of dead soldiers.

Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son Gordon was killed by a roadside bomb in Basra in June 2004, has become a vocal critic of the Land Rovers.

A coroner ruled it was probable the bomb would not have detonated had an electronic detection device designed to protect troops against roadside attacks been fitted to the Land Rover.

Major Matthew Bacon
Major Matthew Bacon was killed in a roadside bomb in Basra in 2005

The equipment had been available but was left in a store under a mile away because of a clerical error.

Roger Bacon, whose son Matthew was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in September 2005, claimed the Land Rovers had not given his son enough protection.

Susan Smith, mother of Pte Phillip Hewett, 21, one of three soldiers killed in Iraq in 2005 when their Land Rover was hit by a roadside bomb, said lightly-armoured vehicles were putting soldiers' lives at risk.

She launched a damages action against the MoD alleging "failures" over the use of the vehicles.

In separate proceedings, she has now won the right to a judicial review of the government's refusal to hold a public inquiry into the use of the Snatch.

How has the government reacted?

In 2006, the then Defence Secretary Des Browne ordered a review of the Land Rovers, which had increasingly become known as "soft targets".

But the month-long review concluded the vehicles provided the best mobility for the difficult terrain of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In December 2007, Mr Browne met with some of the families, including Mr Bacon, who called for the vehicles to be removed from action.

The vehicles hit the headlines again when Cpl Sarah Bryant, the first British woman killed on duty in Afghanistan, and three male SAS reservists died on 17 June 2008 when their Land Rover was destroyed by a landmine.

What are replacing them?

At the end of October 2008, the government announced a £700m investment in more than 700 vehicles which will offer British troops greater protection than they have now.

As part of the programme, Snatch Land Rovers will be upgraded to a new type called the Snatch Vixen which possess more power and provides better protection.

The MoD says the Vixen has been especially configured for Afghanistan and will offer the "highest levels of protection for its size and weight class".

It says a small number of Vixens have already been fielded in the country.

Mastiff vehicles in Afghanistan
The heavily-armoured Mastiff is also in use in Afghanistan

The MoD says a range of armoured vehicles, from the heavily-armoured Mastiff to the more agile Jackal, are now available and it is already reducing the Snatch Land Rover's patrolling roles.

Defence officials have said the availability of the high-mobility and low-profile vehicle is considered "mission critical" by the military.

The government hopes the Vixen will be in front-line use by the end of 2010.

Have other alternatives been considered?

Other possible replacements had been put forward in the past.

US forces use Humvee vehicles, but these have come in for similar criticism to the Land Rovers and are thought to be susceptible to roadside bombs and grenades.

The RG31 vehicle used by the South African army had also been touted as a possible replacement but it is designed to protect against landmines.

Snatch Land Rover and RG-31

Name: Snatch Land Rover
Defences: Armour to protect against explosions and ballistics; roadside bomb detectors
Strengths: Quick land transport for up to six troops
Weaknesses: Questions over level of protection offered
Cost: Approximately £50,000
Name: RG-31 - made by OMC
Defences: All-steel armoured hull protects against mines and small arms fire
Strengths: V-shaped underside pushes blast outwards
Weaknesses: Questions over mobility and maintenance
Cost: Approximately £250,000

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