PA Consulting Group devised ‘Panama’, an unmanned, vehicle-based explosive device detection system to protect troops in Afghanistan
When the UK’s Ministry of Defence began to look for a new system to protect UK troops in Afghanistan from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) hidden below road surfaces, it faced a dilemma.
Complete off-the-shelf solutions existed but were unsatisfactory – they were manned, whereas unmanned systems would be safer and more effective. Customising a solution within the required time of under a year, however, looked impossible.
In a highly unusual consulting engagement, PA Consulting Group found a middle path between bespoke and off-the-shelf options. PA’s solution, called “Panama”, took the obsolete SN2A “Snatch” Land Rover, 200 of which were awaiting disposal by the MOD, added an operationally proven IED detector system and integrated off-the-shelf remote-control and sensor subsystems.
Panama keeps the crew out of harm’s way, situating them in a separate vehicle, the most protected vehicle in the UK fleet.
Panama took just 11 months to move from investment decision to operational use. PA met the urgent timescales without compromising on performance, through innovation in both solution and procurement.
As well as applying accelerated procurement methods from an earlier project, PA supported the MOD in taking overall responsibility for design decisions, without the usual prime contract arrangements but with close collaboration among empowered and incentivised suppliers.
After more than 18 months of active operations the ability of UK forces to find and deal with IEDs has sharply improved. Now IEDs can be found remotely and lives have been saved by the reduced need for soldiers to investigate on foot. There has been a ten-fold increase in the rate at which a route can be searched. This means soldiers on the ground can get things done much faster.
PA’s approach saved an estimated £9m, reducing initial procurement cost to £50m. A further £8m of savings are expected over the life of Panama, thanks to use of the existing “Snatch” Land Rovers.
Lieutenant Colonel Adrian Parker, senior requirements manager, manoeuvre support team, UK MOD, said of the project: “Together we have achieved results that many, both within and outside of the team, thought impossible at the outset.
“PA helped us to execute the role with confidence and convert scepticism amongst key stakeholders to commitment. Perhaps most importantly, PA has helped to make Panama a source of pride within the MOD as we continue to ensure we fully support the needs of our soldiers in Afghanistan.”
The Panama project landed PA first place in the innovation category at this year’s MCA Awards and the Platinum award as overall winner of all categories.
To find out more about PA’s award-winning work on Panama and our wider innovation, technology and defence experience, please contact us now.