Thursday, March 08, 2007

Assisted suicide

If a measure was needed of how dismally the MoD procurement process is letting down our troops, an answer to a question from MP Ann Winterton in today’s Hansard reveals that an armoured vehicle selected in July 2003 is not going to be delivered to the Army until the end of this year – more than four years after it was first ordered - and then, initially, only to "training establishments".

This is the Italian-built Panther Command and Liaison Vehicle. A formal order was placed in November 2003 for 401 vehicles, with an option for up to 400 more, the first batch priced at £166 million, equating to £413,000 each.

As we remarked when we first wrote about the subject, a top-of-the-range Rolls-Royce would come cheaper. Furthermore, it was selected in preference to the larger and better-protected RG-31, built by a South African subsidiary of BAE Land Systems, costing not much more than half the price of the Panther.

What makes this so devastating is that the Parliamentary answer coincides with a press release by the US Oshkosh Company, celebrating the award of a contract to produce evaluation versions of the Australian-designed Bushmaster (pictured) - part of the programme to re-equip the US armed forces with Mine Resistant and Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles.

This we reported earlier this month but even then our information was out of date, as we were writing about 4,000 vehicles being ordered. In mid-February, the number was increased, subject to Congress approval, to 6,738, in recognition of how effective the vehicles have been in protecting their occupants.

But the ultimate irony is that, while the US is powering ahead with a major re-equipment programme, our hugely expensive Panthers are effectively useless for service in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Not only do they provide considerably less protection than any of the MRAP vehicles, the interiors are proving too small even for their intended command functions.

Worse still, since they are designed as command vehicles, and differ from any other vehicles in service, they present an easily identifiable high-value target to insurgents. They would be a liability on an "asymmetric" battlefield, amounting to an exercise in assisted suicide for their occupants.

We end up, therefore with 400 redundant vehicles for a price which would have put 500 or more MRAP-type vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan where they are needed - all over a timespan longer than it will take the US to re-equip its entire armed forces with such vehicles.

Thus are we served.

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