S'pore-made Warthog still popular among British troops
TWO years after the first made- in-Singapore Warthog armoured vehicle was fielded in Afghanistan, it is still proving to be a hit among British soldiers and feared by Taleban insurgents.
The Warthog, produced by Singapore's leading defence contractor ST Kinetics, has been able to outperform the Viking, a similar type of armoured vehicle made by British defence contractor BAE Systems, which it replaced.
The British Army bought about 100 Warthogs in 2008 to replace the Vikings, which were withdrawn from service after a quarter of the fleet was destroyed by Taleban roadside bombs or improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Described as a "beast of a vehicle", the Warthog's armour is able to withstand IED hits, hence saving the lives of troops.
Many servicemen have died in the Vikings, used between 2006 and 2010, due to poor armour protection.
But in the two years that the Warthogs have been used, no soldier has died in them, though there were those who were seriously injured.
But even as it continues to get battlefield accolades, the Warthog's future in the British Army is uncertain as British Prime Minister David Cameron announced last week that British forces will start to pull out of the war-torn area next year, before the 2014 withdrawal deadline.
It has been reported that to cut costs, the Warthogs may be among 1,800 armoured vehicles to be left behind in Afghanistan.
Retired British armour officer James Cameron said the Warthogs would be an asset for the British Army.
The 39-year-old, who now runs a British charity, was the first to use the vehicle in the Afghan operations.
Speaking to The Straits Times last week, he said the Warthogs have been more effective than the Vikings, which were "overmatched by the threat of IEDs".
"You had to be slower, more deliberate... do more work on proven routes where the risk is lower. When you are not on proven routes, you will do it only in daylight and often behind a guy with a metal detector," said the former commander of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment Squadron, who led a six-month mission in Afghanistan.
The 19-tonne Warthog has been able to manoeuvre in the dusty desert of the Helmand region, traverse the countryside and cross tricky ditches with ease, extending the reach of British troops in the hostile regions to outflank Taleban insurgents.
Major (Ret) Cameron, who has served in four deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, said: "We were able to pop up in places where the Taleban did not expect us to be... so we could better surround, strike and suppress them."
Also making a difference were ST Kinetics' 80-plus engineers and maintenance staff who were able to produce the first Warthog within nine months of the order, ahead of schedule.
Some were even sent to Afghanistan to work alongside British soldiers and fix problems so vehicles that broke down could be redeployed quickly.
Service manager Thum Chow Wah, 59, who supported the Warthog operations for four months in Afghanistan, said: "It's not just a monetary transaction... We were also committed to make sure our vehicles worked and soldiers would not get killed while in them."
This article first appeared in The Straits Times on Dec 24.