by: Mario Krajinovic [ ]
Special Operations Forces (SOF) have a long history in the use of specialist or customized vehicles adapted to match the unique requirements of their unconventional missions. With the primary function of providing necessary protection to the operators with sufficient firepower, the vehicles must also be able to act as mobile logistical bases, transporting enough supplies for the SOF operators to replenish in the field without reverting to mothership or helo resupply. Such requirements always come with the necessary trade-offs between speed, maneuverability, and protection Ė in terms of armor, survivability systems and weapons.
Following tender responses in June/July 2004, the French Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced in mid-2005 that the Panhard VPS (Le Vťhicule Patrouille SAS) had been selected to meet a requirement for a rapidly deployable vehicle capable of long-duration missions in extremes of climate. Delivery of the 51 vehicles involved in this requirement commenced in late 2006.
According to Jane's, the VPS requirement is essentially a further incarnation of the earlier abandoned 63-vehicle VRI (Vťhicule Rapide d'Investigation) requirement for which the G-Class-based Mechem BAT competed against buggy-based designs from Auverland (The Chenowth ASLV) and Flyer Defense. Competing against Panhard for the revised VPS requirement was Sociťtť Nouvelle des Automobiles Auverland (SNAA) and Land Rover. SNAA proposed a variant of the A4 FAST, while Land Rover - in conjunction with Ricardo Special Vehicles - offered a version of the Defender 130 that was similar in configuration to the British Army's Defender 110-based Weapons Mount Installation Kit (WMIK). The VPS requirement is understood to have called for a four-door, four-person vehicle with a payload of 1,100 kg. A mine-protected floor pan (DM 31) and mounting points (ring-mount) for a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun and a front swivel mount for a 7.62 mm light machine gun were required. A turbocharged diesel engine (with a 24 V electrical system) meeting performance criteria of a 120 km/h maximum speed and sufficient acceleration to cover 400 m from a standing start in 25 seconds was required.
The Panhard VPS delivered to the French Army is based on the Mercedes-Benz 270 CDI G-Class. The base vehicle is delivered direct to Panhard General Defence's Saint Germain Laval facilities as a two-door (minus the doors) vehicle from Magna Steyr's Austrian production facility. All militarization including painting and installation of the mine-blast protecting floor pan is carried out by Panhard at Saint Germain Laval. The basic crew of the VPS is two, driver (front left) and commander (front right), with the rear crew compartment configurable for payload or an additional one or two crew members. The two front doors (if mounted) are fabric covered, and the rear drop-down tailgate is steel. The surface of the open rear compartment is 3.5 m2.The VPS is designed to accept a 7.62 mm light machine gun on a front swivel mount which is operated by the vehicle commander, and a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun in a ring-mount over the rear body. In addition to racks for ammunition and communication equipment, the equipment included in the VPS includes a first aid kit, 2 ◊ 20-litre jerry cans, storage for 30 liters of fuel or water, two spare wheels, a shovel and pickaxe, and a 4,000 kg front bumper-mounted self-recovery winch. The floor pan is protected to Level 1 of STANAG 4569. The electrical system is split 12/24 V enabling the VPS to be used in difficult climatic conditions, the 12 V network serving primarily the engine and the gearbox. The VPS powerplant is a turbocharged MB diesel engine OM612 DE27LA coupled to W5A 850 gearbox with 5 forward and 1 reverse gear. With maximum road speed of 120 km, the range of the VPS is 800 km. Vehicle can climb up to 60% gradient, move on 30% side slopes and ford water 60 cm high.
The Panhard VPS is currently deployed in Afghanistan.
This is a review of Azimut Productions 1/35 scale Panhard VPS Special Forces conversion kit #35110 for the Revell LKw Light GL Wolf.
The conversion kit comes packed in a tough cardboard box (~19x11 cm) with a sticker featuring small box art image. The contents of the box are as following : 3 zip-lock bags (1x wheels and rear cargo space, 1x weapons and the appropriate mounts, and a myriad of smaller parts, 1x roll bar and the heavy weapon ring mount), 2 body sides and a set of instructions that also have a small PE fret attached to it.
All the parts are cast in gray resin that shows off all the intricate details to great level, and also permits any possible molding defects to be seen at first glance. The molding is good, without warping of the longer parts and with some casting imperfections such as air bubbles, excessive flash or sink lines. The casting blocks are cleverly placed and should clean up easily. There are some minor seam lines, but nothing difficult to handle.
Instructions are provided on 2 A4 papers in black & white exploded diagrams covering 11 build steps. As mentioned before, the second paper has a small PE fret (with 19 2 separate parts) attached to it. All the build steps are shown in isometric perspective with English and French construction notes and are very clear and easy to follow. The only thing missing is any trace of color call-outs in general.
The two large body parts (side panels) are very crisp in details inside and out. My kit suffered from some superficial damage while in transport so this may not be so in every boxing but itís worth mentioning: both wheel wells have a support rod connecting the sides to ensure the parts donít warp. Both rear supports in my kit were snapped off, but fortunately no damage was done to the parts. The instructions call out the need to cut out the doors, which are not really doors but excess resin that needs to be cleaned out. One of the side panels didnít have it (I figured it was thin enough and just fell off). Take care when cleaning out this area as you could damage the rest of the body side.
Zip-lock bag #1
The roll bar is made up of three main pieces, once connected they provide the necessary weapon mount and the gunnerís ring. These parts are relatively thin and come without molding blocks so some warping is present and will require cleanup. However the cleanup is easy enough to take care off as itís a matter of some raised seam lines, flash and sanding off the molding stubs. All 3 bars feature locating points for the interconnecting parts so alignment should be easy enough.
Zip-lock bag #2
The wheels on the VPS I have reference for are standard MB 5-spokes alloy rims with BF Goodrich (275/70/R16) All-Terrain T/A tires. The kit counterpart captures the look of the real thing with a MB logo on the center hub but no side-walls lettering what so ever. The pictures available show the VPS without significant tire bulging so this is ok, but I doubt a fully laden vehicle in operation will look this way. The tires provided in the kit are not those I noted before so I cannot confirm that the thread is accurate but I can tell you it suffers from some molding flaws Ė one side of the center thread is filled with resin but as you weather the wheels, this should not stand out much. Two spare wheels are provided and they have a center dust cover. One spare wheel has the biggest problem of the whole lot. Bubbles and a molding stub messed up the thread area localized in a single spot. Turning that area away from sight will help I guess.
Two closed storage boxes are provided and are sharp in detail and will convey the busy look of SOF vehicles. Two jerry cans with appropriate side mounts are provided in the kit and the straps holding them down are especially well done. Also the back features two locating pins which ensure proper alignment and attaching anchors to the body sides.
Speaking of storage racks, one part that probably needs replacing is the rear mount for the PSP planks. The mount itself is ok but the PSP planks inside look fused together and excess resin filled up the lightening perforations. Since the shape is really easy to reproduce in styrene I see this as a minor setback. Other parts included in the first zip-lock bag are the center ridge console, the center and rear bottom chassis body parts and the tailgate cover.
The center console looks great, as it captures the complicated shape to the detail. All that you need to enhance this part is 2 small grab handles and a decent paint job. The tailgate is nicely done. The center piece feature s anti slip plates on both sides that is very sharp in detail, license plate mount and hinges. But if you want it shown deployed some cutting of the center part (serves as an entry step) will be required.
The rear cargo bed looks really sharp. On the bottom there are strengthening ribs in the wheel wells, while the top surface is full of details with gunnerís platform rails and attachment rings/loops clearly molded. The gunnerís platform bottom frame is molded in place so it ensures the centering with the top weapon ring. Gunnerís stand is provided as a separate part and represents an anti-slip sheet metal. It looks OK, but needs a couple holes drilled out according to reference images. The center body floor pan is detailed only on the top as the bottom gets covered by armor panels but it captures the look of sheet metal very well with all indentations just like on the real thing.
Zip-lock bag #3
The interior parts, seats, weapons and their mounts, ammo boxes and the weapons ring are all in a separate zip-lock bag and since there are many small parts on the pouring blocks, a lot of loose pieces were inside.
The seats provided look really nice. They really reproduce the heavy look of these in real life and the cushions and backrests are sculpted greatly. Unfortunately the molding on the bases is not really crisp as it could have been. Two casting plugs are on the cushions front side and look messy but some sanding should take care of it. There are light seam lines on the connections between the backrests and the cushions as some flash on the seat rails. The front and back seats differ from each other with headrest for the two front seats and different mounting bases. Bases are provide as separate parts for each seat and will require only minor flash cleanup.
The front bumper is really nicely done. Itís a 6 parts affair and once completed will look really good. The winch assembly is accurate and looks busy once complete. One thing you have to make on your own is to add the wire to connect the tow hook to the winch spindle.
Weapons are provided in the shape of a M2 .50cal heavy machine gun and a 7.62mm light machine gun for the front mount. In this boxing were 2 .50cal guns (not sure if thatís a standard practice for Azimut) that are really nice but are affected with barrel warp, so you could swap out the barrels for some brass versions that are out there. The main weapon mount is provided in white metal (a unique piece in the kit) perhaps to aid in the sturdiness of the assembly. The resin parts of the mount are somewhat marred by molding deficiencies and will take some cleaning up. The M2 attaches to a weapon ring mount that then attaches to the weapon ring platform on the roll bar and once cleaned up and assembled should look the part. As Iím not very familiar with French infantry weapons, I did not recognize the LMG; however from the reference available I have seen that the front gun is (has been?) replaced by FN Minimi Para Ė basically a short barreled paratrooper version of the M249 with a telescoping buttstock. The mounts and ammo box for the front weapon system are door mounted and are provided as resin parts that are very sharply rendered.
Spare ammo boxes are molded with their stowage racks and while the 7.62 ammo boxes look crisp and sharp in detail, the M2 boxes look softer in detail.
Pioneering tools (shovel, pick and axe) are provided as well as their stowage rack for the bonnet and are sharply molded. Some flash is to be removed from these parts, but they are good.
Other small parts such as fire extinguishers (x2), steering wheel, spade grip for the M2, various levers and handles are provided and care should be taken while removing them from the casting blocks as they look very fragile.
Photo-etched parts are on a small fret and provide the front/rear headlight guards, antenna mounts, gunnerís seat strap, rear-view mirror mounts and the Panhard badge.
All in all, this is an old-school, manly mans resin conversion set. It may not have the accuracy and perfection of 3D printed parts, but itís got everything you need to do something rather unique. As there are only 51 of these vehicles itís guaranteed to turn a few heads, and itís something different to do with your 1/35 Wolf model. Perhaps itís not for the ultimate beginner to start off your conversion career, but with some TLC this will turn out to be a beautiful model. The quality of the design will ensure that everyone will be able to enjoy this well envisioned conversion. Recommended.