This short article aims to set out the basics of the Defender WMIK, along with a bit of the history. The WMIK is a strange beast and has seen many subtle variations over the years, often whatever was required to meet specific unit requirements. Whilst efforts have been made to focus on the key variants with as much accuracy as possible, if you are able to provide further insight then please get in touch via the website administrator. 

The world before the WMIK

Perhaps the story should begin back in World War II when the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) was formed to cover huge distances across the African desert, primarily in a reconnaissance role. They used a range of vehicles, often whatever they could get hold of and modified them to suit the task at hand. When the Special Air Service (SAS) was approved to follow their lead with a more aggressive approach, some of the LRDG were co-opted in to support the venture. Their mission directive was to strike the enemy from the barren desert, exploiting any weakness to destroy supply lines, equipment and morale. Raids were generally conducted at night with maximum shock and awe to stun their adversaries. They’d then melt away into the chilly night, leaving behind a trail of destruction and confusion. They had some notable successes but also some failures and in truth were a disparate bunch of skilled, highly motivated and incredibly brave rogues and misfits.

Post war the SAS adopted the new Series I, removing centre seat, doors, roof, windscreen and anything else deemed an unnecessary luxury. They then made a host of modifications including raised seat for the vehicle commander, heavy duty springs, long range fuel tanks, single rear facing seat for the rear gunner/radio operator, weapon mounts and lockers/storage wherever they could to carry the extra fuel, water and ammunition needed to support missions.

In the mid-1960s the SAS needed to replace the aging Series I vehicles and with the opportunity of additional capacity offered by the Series IIa 109 this formed the basis of a replacement. Building upon what had gone before and experience gained, Marshalls of Cambridge were set to work. The first vehicle being delivered in late 1968 and after receiving a paint colour for operations in Oman soon became known as the ‘Pink Panther’. Despite a habit of breaking half-shafts these vehicles proved themselves in operations and remained in service for around 20 years.

By the late 1980s the Defender had firmly established itself as a tough and worthy truck capable of becoming successor to the now famous Pinkie. The first Defender 110s were converted to desert patrol vehicles (DPVs), again by Marshalls of Cambridge and once again building on the tried and tested modifications of previous versions. When fully laden they were certainly an impressive sight, if perhaps a little heavy. After witnessing the capabilities of British DPVs in Operation Granby, which was the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, the US Rangers asked Land Rover to build them something similar. This was to become the Rangers Special Operations Vehicles (RSOV) with deliveries beginning in 1993. 

Also in the late 1980s a company called Longline developed a light strike vehicle named Cobra that was used by the SAS in Op Granby, and in 1993 this company was taken over by Ricardo Engineering. Working in partnership with Land Rover, Ricardo Engineering Special Vehicles developed the Cobra concept into a kit that would then be applied to a base vehicle. This increased fleet capability and flexibility, as if no longer needed in a specialist role the kit could be removed and the vehicle returned to standard. With its heavy-duty chassis the relatively new into service Truck Utility Medium - High Specification (TUM HS, also known as the “Wolf”) became the ideal base vehicle and the WMIK as we know it was born. These were standard TUM Wolf although later some Otokar manufactured Snatch chassis were also used as base vehicles. 

Over the years the kits have evolved as below:

Original WMIK (known as O-WMIK when later variants came along) – from 1998

  • Based on a standard TUM HS platform
  • 300tdi/R380 engine and gearbox in standard configuration with gearbox oil cooler
  • 24v vehicle electrical system, plus separate 24v system in Fitted for radio (FFR) vehicles
  • Lower roll cage to get vehicle into Chinhook helicopter
  • Roll cage integrated primary weapon ring with folding universal mount
  • Weapon mount and height adjustable seat for vehicle commander
  • Additional stowage, including bonnet and tailgate baskets
  • Windscreen and weather hood available, removed in theatre to allow improved situational awareness
  • Dash weather cover, fitted in theatre
  • Standard steel “Wolf” wheels and tyres

Manned by a crew of three (commander, driver and gunner) typically the WMIK vehicle is used in long-range reconnaissance, force protection and fire support roles. This high mobility platform is capable of traversing varying terrain to quickly position a range of heavy weapons and dominate the ground. Weapons vary but typically the primary ring mounted weapon would be either:

  • L111 12.7mm Heavy Machine Gun (50cal HMG)
  • L134 40mm Grenade Machine Gun (GMG)
  • L7 7.62mm General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) (twin option available)

A forward pintle mounted GPMG, ahead of the vehicle commander provides close crew protection and of course each crew member would carry personal weapons such as L85 5.56mm assault rifle (SA80), L119 5.56 assault rifle, M6 5.56mm Ultra Compact Individual Weapon (UCIW) and possibly a pistol, the L105/6/7/117 9mm SIG Sauer or P226/7/8/9 or L131/7 9mm Glock.

The British Army took delivery of its first WMIK in 1998 and in 1999 some were deployed in a peacekeeping role to Macedonia. In May 2000 a number deployed with 1 PARA Battle Group (BG) to Sierra Leone on Op Palliser. In late summer a group of Royal Irish Rangers patrolling in three WMIKs were captured by a gang of rebels, known as 'The West Side Boys'. With thoughts of a big pay day the West Side Boys tried to negotiate and a number of Rangers were released, but as negotiations started to stall a rescue mission (Op Barras) was setup. With fire support from two Lynx attack helicopters and ground support from 1 Para, a combined SAS/SBS team fast roped from two Chinhooks and proceeded to mount the rescue. The ensuing battle raged for a some hours, sadly resulting in the death of one SAS soldier and with a number of British forces sustaining injuries. The Royal Irish Rangers were rescued, along with their WMIKs and the leader of the West Side Boys captured.

In 2001 British forces deployed to Afghanistan with UK Special Forces (UKSF) contributing significantly towards the US led operation to oust the Taliban. We know little of this period but along with them went some mysterious white WMIKs. 

The main British Army effort commenced in 2002 with Op Herrick running for around 12 years. Throughout this time most British Army units played at least some part, along with Paras, Marines and UKSF. The Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Air Force (RAF) also doing their bit.

If British Forces weren’t stretched enough on Op Herrick in 2003 coalition forces moved into Iraq and Op Telic began. This ran for eight years and again utilised in some way or another almost all units of the British Army, Paras, Marines and UKSF, supported by RN and RAF. Once again, WMIKs were on the front line doing what was needed.

From the outset of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) threat began to grow. The need to make changes to the WMIK was self-evident and this led to development of the Enhanced WMIK.

Enhanced WMIK (E-WMIK) – from 2006

  • Based on O-WMIK
  • Upgraded suspension to increase payload weight
  • Adjustable rear seat for gunner on primary weapon mount ring and fold away raised platform for gunner to stand on
  • Modular Armour Protection Installation Kit (MAPIK) to provide protections from improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), including wheel arch and under belly armour
  • Alloy wheels designed to fragment from blast rather than launch intact (as the solid steel rims were found to do), run-flat inserts included
  • Infra-red lighting system (front and rear)
  • Multi-band Electronic counter measures (ECM) fit
  • Fixed installation of Bowman communications system including two VHF and one HF radios
  • Side panniers fitted at rear to provide additional fuel/water storage
  • Extended rear HF antenna mount (often referred to as the ironing board) to ensure antenna separation 

Re-lifed WMIK (R-WMIK) – from 2008

  • Based on E-WMIK
  • Further upgraded suspension to increase gross weight to 4,100kg
  • Upgraded Bilstein dampers to reduce vehicle body sway caused by main weapon recoil
  • Pneumatic locking axle differentials (reduce ratio), onboard air compressor
  • Revised IED protection including armoured rear V-hull and associated reduction in suspended under belly armour
  • ECM system switched to manpack, demountable so could be carried if needed
  • Bowman communications system also switched to demountable manpack
  • Later safety revisions included front roll-over protection (FROPS ), multi-point harness for occupants and removal of commanders raising seat, which also meant a cut away dashboard on the nearside. This combined with the FROPS meant there was then no way of fitting a windscreen or weatherproof hood

Although generally associated with desert use a small number of WMIKs were modified to extend capabilities in other theatres of operation. This was typically carried out for specific units. The “Winterised” variant allowed extended use in colder climates, others were “Waterised” for deep wading (ie jungle or beach landing), some even had both and became “Winterised/Waterised”

R+WMIK (R-WMIK+) (RWMIK Plus) – from June 2010

  • Largely a departure from its predecessor (R-WMIK), similar in appearance only
  • Major chassis and structural changes, including high-capacity rear tub
  • Further upgraded suspension to increase gross weight to 4,700kg
  • 300tdi 2.8 litre engine, automatic transmission, uprated rear axle and brakes
  • Crew increase to four, revised seating and safety harness
  • 24v systems with high output FFR 130amp alternator, relocated battery stowage
  • Revised IED and ballistic protection both below and above the chassis
  • Full ECM suite installed
  • No windscreen and weatherproof hood option

Many branches of the British military have and still do use the Defender WMIK, including but not limited to Yeomanry, Parachute Regiment, Royal Irish Regiment, RAF Regiment, Royal Marines, SBS and of course SAS. Defender WMIK, or variants of them are known to have been supplied to Royal Netherlands Marine Corps, Italian Carabinieri and Lithuanian Special Forces.

In civilian hands

Defender WMIK’s of all variants have been released (or “cast”) in notably small numbers, examples have been known to briefly appear at auction sites before being re-acquired by the MOD and put back into service. This situation is likely due to the limited quantity produced and the variant upgrade programme that “recycled” the vehicles. It must also be noted that although in recent years the Supacat Jackal started to take on roles previously undertaken by Defender WMIKs there isn’t a comparable rapid, highly mobile, low profile platform that can offer the same punch, so armed services continue to maintain and repair the Defender WMIKs they have. A quantity of the R-WMIK platform are presently undergoing renovation for continued service.

The WMIK’s in private ownership are rare and are likely to stay that way. Arguably the RWMIK+ is the least attractive option due to numerous specialist non-Defender parts, complex servicing needs and the fact that a weather proof top is not an option. All other variants (“O”, “E” and “R”) are relatively easy to live with, simple to maintain and can be fitted with a weatherproof hood, doors and windscreen for everyday use. Whilst most parts are common to standard Wolf, any WMIK specific parts can be incredibly difficult to source making restoration a real labour of love.


Article by Andy Godward and Wayne Wood