Although it has the wartime experience and the ability to meet demand, Tata may not have the armor required to deflect landmines or shelling from the media.
Tata Motors has plans to develop a new platform from the Land Rover stable to win defense contracts from Europe, China, Russia and India. Land Rover, with nearly 60 years experience, provides armed forces around the globe with light vehicles designed to meet a wide range of defense and peace-keeping roles. Both names have been closely associated with the military for decades, but not without controversy.
The standard defense vehicle in the Land Rover line-up is based on the Defender heavy-duty 4×4 platform. The military versions of Defender are based on the civilian version, having the same basic chassis, powertrain, axles and bodywork. Evidently, the vehicle is tough enough “as is” for many military applications.
However, lately that has backfired, so to speak. This latest move into the military is aimed at reviving Land Rover's fortunes, whose sales declined 11.22 per cent to 61,421 units in the July-September period as compared to 69,189 vehicles sold in the corresponding period last year.
Clearly, the military is a viable market. The push is, unfortunately, coming at a time when 38 British soldiers have died – with many more injured – after being ordered to patrol in Iraq and Afghanistan in “Snatch” Land Rovers. These light-duty vehicles were designed for a different purpose in Northern Ireland and provide no protection against roadside bombs and landmines. The situation is really quite a mess. Sue Smith, whose son was killed in a Snatch in Iraq in 2005, launched a High Court action against the MoD. She aims to call the ministry to account for knowingly exposing troops to the lethal danger posed by these vehicles. And the SAS chief quit outright over the “negligence that killed his troops.”
The media – especially in Britain – has latched onto this as a SNAFU of the highest order by its MoD, and is holding the department accountable for this apparent negligence. The story is not going away anytime soon, which could create real problems for the marketing of Tata's military presence down the road.
That said, Tata Motors has been providing defense solutions including armored trucks for over five decades, supplying over 10,000 vehicles to the Indian military and paramilitary forces alone. At the Defense Expo earlier this year, the company showcased the Tata Light Specialty Vehicle (TLSV), a reconnaissance vehicle, in an attempt to expand its offerings.
The company also makes light armored troop carrier (LATC) with remote controlled weapon station (RCWS) designed for movement of troops and produces the armored version of the Safari SUV for the army.
The question is: will the next round of armored Land Rovers be tough enough to repel mortar fire from the enemy and the media at the same time?
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