Vehicles - VPK

The VPK Land Rover in Northern Ireland

When the British Army became involved in helping the civil power in 1969, many people believed it would not last very long. However the Army was totally unprepared for an internal security role in this type of situation. One of the biggest problems was to provide protection for troops who for the most part were using 'soft skin' vehicles in the form of Bedford trucks and Land Rovers. Armoured vehicles available at the time were Alvis Saracens (some were diverted from foreign customers), Humber Pigs (some bought back from dealers by the MoD after being disposed of!) and armoured Commers and also Humber Pigs requisitioned from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). In some respects they were not really suited for that type of service, they were expensive to run and labour intensive to maintain.

One of the best ideas was to make a Vehicle Protection Kit (VPK) out of Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) to cover existing vehicles, particularly Land Rovers. They approached the Royal Navy who had experience of using GRP to make conning towers and other parts for use on submarines. The major advantage of the VPK was that no special tools were required to fit the kits, standard hand tools only were needed. A vehicle could be fitted with a complete kit in about 32 to 35 man-hours. Basically the VPK was bolted to the outside of the vehicle. When a vehicle was no longer required with the VPK it was a simple job to remove, leaving only a few holes to show that it had ever been fitted. The only major modification required was the fitting of large cylindrical rubber pads that sat between the axle and chassis, (the bump stops being removed). A shoe plate was welded on top of the axle affected, these were called Aeon springs. They were meant to be fitted to the rear of 1/4 Ton, and the front of 1/2 Ton and 3/4 Ton, but often seem to have been put on all axles.

Vehicles were painted in accordance with theatre instructions. This meant deep bronze green early on, later in NATO green, and contrary to popular belief, disruptive NATO green and black. In the late 1980s it was (and still is) common practice to stencil on the body sides in yellow or red (fuel filler cap colours) "CONFIDENTIAL TELEPHONE 0800 666999". This was done by the user and was not always very neat.

Following the success of the Northern Ireland Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) Vehicle Protection Kits (VPK's), the HV Vehicle Protection Kit was introduced as an interim measure before the Land Rover 110 Armoured Patrol Vehicle was introduced in 1986. The need for this had arisen due to the outdated nature of the GRP VPKs that, after all, had been introduced in the early 1970's. In the late 1970's a need for increased protection over the existing VPK's had been identified, It was decided to improve the GRP VPK by using hardened steel bolt on armour and a completely new armoured glass windscreen. The HV stood for High Velocity i.e. proof against high velocity rounds. Some were built from new, others modified from GRP VPK's. They were referred to as 'Piglets'. Aeon springs had to be fitted on the rear axle as on the GRP VPK's, but often appear to have been fitted on both axles. The HV vehicles weighed in at over 2500kg unladen. As to an indication of the weight of the kit, the following extract from the fitting instructions: "Note, to refit door the vehicle must be standing on its road wheels and not on jacks or axle stands, this minimises chassis bend."

It was necessary to fit a ventilator fan in the roof as it was impossible to open the front vents (plated over) and of course the side windows could not be opened. The Piglets did not carry spare tyres, as they were fitted with run flat tyres, using 'Tyron' bands these were designed to stop the tyre coming off the rim if it got a puncture.

A fair number of vehicles still survive, in one way or another. A prototype (unarmoured steel) 00 WA 80 (chassis 91101025A ex 38 FL 66) still exists at Aldershot Military Museum, but it is in poor condition. A number of 'Piglets' are on the show circuit. It is also known that the Swedish Police have acquired some redundant HV kits for their own use.

Mark Cook 2000