Saturday, April 02, 2005

Damn them…

Just occasionally I get really angry and stand at risk of losing any sense of objectivity. This is one of those times.

Tucked into the news in brief in the Telegraph business section is a 13-line item, headed "Army order" confirming what we expected, that the government has given the order for the entire replacement fleet of British Army trucks to the German MAN-Nutzfahrzeuge firm.

This is outrageous… not because for the first time in its history, the British Army will be driving around in German trucks but, because, by any account, these are sub-standard vehicles and the purchase is being made for political rather than operational reasons.

We have rehearsed the issues in previous postings, when the preferred bidder status was announced, and remarked then how little interest the media was taking in this important decision, which involves a substantial amount of taxpayers’ money and has a serious impact on the operational efficiency of the Army.

Now, history repeats itself, with virtually no coverage given to the decision. I don't know if the government did it purposely, announcing the decision yesterday but, in the manner of this Labour government, yesterday was surely a good time to "bury bad news", knowing that the media would be totally focused on the Pope's condition.

But even without that, as we observed recently, as with Michael Howard’s speech the media have shown a dismal regard for defence issues and have reported them extremely badly.

The only excption in the case is The Scotsman which has at least retailed the Conservative response with the headline: "German Truck Deal Is Bad for Army".

"The Conservatives today," goes the piece, "criticised aspects of £1 billion deal by the Ministry of Defence to buy a fleet of new trucks from a German-based company."

The MoD is saying that the deal, announced by defence procurement minister Lord Bach, "would involve equipping the armed services with over 5,000 'modern, versatile and robust' support vehicles… used to transport large quantities of bulk equipment to front-line troops wherever they are operating."

It adds that the deal would create hundreds of jobs at assembly sites across the UK – not saying, incidentally, that the British-American consortiums which also bid for the contract, with superior products, would have created more work in Britain.

However, the Scotsman piece has as the Conservative’s main criticisms that the government is "short-changing" the armed forces, claiming that the MoD had originally intended to buy almost 8,700 vehicles instead of the 5,000 announced.

Conservative defence spokesman Gerald Howarth is cited saying: "Buying fewer trucks than planned is bad for the Armed Forces. Buying them for political rather than commercial reasons is bad for the taxpayer. Building them in Austria is bad for British workers."

The piece does not specify what is meant by "political reasons" but the fact is that the alternatives were superior and the suspicion is that the government is buying in not only to a truck fleet built by a German manufacturer but also the computer logistics system that goes with the trucks.

This has considerable implications for the whole of the Army for the logistics system is an integral part of any modern military system and must be fully integrated with the battlefield electronics. Thus, the chances are that the truck contract is the first stage in a larger contract for the FRES battlefield concept, which, in order to mesh with the logistics system, will also have to be placed with European manufacturers.

What we are seeing, therefore, is not only a bad decision, but the possible precursor to an Army equipped with European equipment. This will, by its very nature, not be compatible with US equipment, paving the way to the full integration of the Army into the EU defence structure and preventing the British Army working alongside the Americans.

These are important issues and, while one might expect this disreputable government to attempt to bury the bad news, that is no excuse for the media falling in with it. Once again the media have failed to do their job. Damn them.

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