Sunday, October 17, 2004

More on those pesky trucks

Following the nomination of the German company MAN Nutzfahzeuge, of Munich, as the preferred bidder for the £1.8 billion contract to supply trucks to the British Army, more has emerged to suggest that politics are driving the selection.

Unusually, one of the unsuccessful bidders has come out into open and condemned the selection. This is the US giant, the Oshkosh Truck Company, based in Wisconsin, with a British subsidiary in Llantrisant, Wales, and other British industrial partners.

This company already supplies wheeled tankers and tank transporters to the British Army, and is premier supplier of heavy tactical trucks to the US Army and Marines, with unrivalled combat experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia. In these theatres, in the words of Oshkosh chairman, Robert G. Bohn, they "have proven to provide awesome off-road mobility, reliability and overall performance".

Where, traditionally, rival, losing bidders keep quiet for fear of losing further work, Bohn issued a robust statement, saying, "We submitted a superior proposal in terms of vehicle performance, value for money, whole-life support and more than 90 percent UK industrial participation." He is to hold a further press conference on 28 October, when further fireworks are expected.

It has also emerged that one of the consortium partners to Stewart & Stevenson of Houston, another of the losing bidders, is the firm Multidrive of Thirsk, specialist in off-road industrial vehicles. So highly regarded is this company for technical innovation that it has been awarded a contract to develop the Future Cargo Vehicle (FCV) for the US Army.

Rather than technical excellence or even value for money, therefore, it appears that the winning German company had an ace up its sleeve. Some of its the truck parts will be manufactured in a plant in Vienna and Austrian government has offered to allow a 100 percent offset value on a deal to buy to Eurofighter for the Austrian Air Force. This has attracted heavyweight friends with one industry source claiming that Schröder had intervened at one point to lobby Blair on behalf of MAN.

Altogether, therefore, it seems as if the British Army is to be provided with second-rate equipment chosen, in part to rescue the troubled Eurofighter project, at a cost that does no favours to the British taxpayer. And, as we have observed before, despite the political implications, not a squeak of protest from the mainstream media.

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