Sunday, November 26, 2006

Hung out to dry

This picture of a British solider pointing his rifle at an Arab woman caused outrage amongst the Guardianistas earlier this year when it was published. But it is easy point-scoring for the armchair liberals who do not have to face the prospect of being attacked by a suicide bomber.

What we cannot see from the picture, however, is the sight fitted to the rifle but, if it had been a thermal imager, the "Vipir", as described by Marine Sergeant Stephen Brown, then the soldier could have picked up the tell-tale "cold-spot" caused by the explosives belt and, with the imager attached to the rifle, could have shot the bomber (if need be) before he or she got close enough to do any damage.

Having lost one of his men to a suicide bomber, Sergeant Brown was particularly keen to have more of such sights, his platoon being issued with three instead of the 25 it needs. "These units will save people's lives," says Brown. "They allow you to look at the potential threat and see him coming, but having to pass them around by hand and pick up your weapon – by that time he's on top of you."

Thus it was that Sergeant Brown went public in the Daily Mail initially, spilling the beans to Matthew Hickley, defence correspondent.

The issue, as we know from the piece posted on this blog was picked up by other media outlets and, in particular, by Shaun Ley of BBC Radio's World at One news programme.

Ley had the opportunity to interview the procurement minister, Lord Drayson, about this specific issue but, as we recorded, he completely blew it. In his ignorance, he allowed Drayson to confuse thermal imaging sights with the standard-issue night vision goggles (illustrated below), which work on a completely different basis.

As can be seen from the illustrations, the green picture is from the night vision goggles, which act as light intensifiers, while the grey-coloured frame is the thermal imager, showing how it picks up infra-red radiation. The latter is entirely independent of the visible light spectrum and can be adjusted for daylight use, unlike the light intensifiers.

The confusion, however, has "killed" the story, evidenced by a short piece at the end of another story in The Times yesterday, reading:

Lord Drayson, the Defence Procurement Minister, said that he was unaware of ammunition shortages or equipment problems in Afghanistan after claims by a Royal Marines sergeant that troops in Helmand province did not have enough grenades, night-vision equipment or armoured vehicles.
Unless the Mail or another media source returns to the story, the issue is now effectively dead. Of course, us bloggers could try to make an issue of it but I doubt we have the power, on our own to make the issue stick. Then, I doubt even that many will try.

Interestingly, last week we did see the famous (in his own lunch-time) Tory blogger, Iain Dale wonder which of our brave servicemen will have the "courage" to ask Gordon Brown these two questions:

How many British soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan because your government won't provide the equipment the armed services have said they need? How much of this is down to you and the Treasury refusing to authorise the MoD to buy the equipment?
But, while Dale has been known to get the occasional quickie "tee-hee" story out of defence issues, now that Sergeant Brown has put himself out on a limb, I suspect we will hear nothing further from him.

Nor indeed is it likely that we will hear anything from the Tory defence team, which seems incapable of handling such issues. And the Boy Cameron, of course, is far too grand to concern himself with such trivial matters. Once again, therefore, we are confronting a failure of the political process, where even our troops on the front line cannot rely on MPs for support.

As a result, Marine Sergeant Stephen Brown's men are still at risk through inadequate equipment - and are likely to remain so - while he, the good Sergeant, has been hung out to dry.


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