UK Ministry of Defence,
The first batch of the new Ridgback protected vehicles are currently being tested by the Army, and are expected to be going to work in Afghanistan later this year.
Lighter and more agile than the Mastiff Armoured Fighting Vehicle, the Ridgback, though very similar, is nearly two metres shorter but, crucially, a metre slimmer than its big brother, allowing troops greater access and mobility within built-up environments.
While manoeuvrability is its special feature, it is passenger-protection that remains paramount. Ridgback is mine and IED (improvised explosive device) strike-proofed to the same level as a Mastiff 2; just as heavily armoured but nine tonnes lighter.
As with Mastiff, the base vehicle is the American Cougar. These are shipped to Coventry where NP Aerospace up-armours then unleashes the new beasts for the Ministry of Defence.
The 4x4s become Ridgbacks and the 6x6s become the Mastiffs soldiers know and love. In sharing the same basic platform and major components, Ridgback benefits from the proven support and training regimes already in place for Mastiff.
Among the upgrades fitted at Coventry, Ridgback incorporates an impressive electronics pack including Bowman communications, electronic countermeasures, night vision and thermal imaging. The multi-camera feeds to the TV screens inside give the crew impressive situational awareness from within the vehicle.
Some vehicles will be fitted with a remote weapons system allowing the crew to operate Ridgback's weapons via a camera and joystick from inside the vehicle.
Other attributes include run-flat tyres, modified seats offering superior protection from bomb blasts, and easy gear selection and driveability.
Jason Purveur, Ridgback project manager, said:
“We had infantry support us throughout the whole design and development process. All of the attributes that they think they will need in theatre we try and accommodate within the build of the programme. My hope is that they get exactly what they want.”
Once out of the factory, Ridgback is put through its paces in a series of tough mobility tests at the Army's Combat Support Trials and Development Unit (CSS TDU) at Long Valley, Aldershot.
To enable it to carry out different roles within Afghanistan Ridgback will be introduced in four variants: a troop-carrying protected weapons station, a remote weapons station, a battlefield ambulance, and a command post vehicle.
Although the vehicles are very tough, they are certainly not indestructible, and the Ridgback team is keen that its drivers and battlefield commanders “don't try to write cheques the vehicle can't cash by putting it to uses it's not designed for”.
Mr Purveur had the following message for front line troops and commanders eagerly awaiting the arrival of the vehicles in theatre:
“Bear with us – we're getting them out to you as fast as we possibly can. Fingers crossed, when you receive them you'll appreciate everything that we've done, and most importantly, that they'll keep you guys safe.”
— Top speed: 55mph (90km/h)
— Weight: 19.5 tonnes
— Weapons: A mixture of weapons systems, including a 7.62mm Heavy Machine Gun; General Purpose Machine Gun; and Grenade Machine Gun mounted.