Saturday, May 02, 2009

"Mistakes were probably made"

Guido might preen about getting rid of a special advisor, but that's chump change compared with forcing the MoD to get rid of an entire fleet of vehicles.

The breakthrough actually came on Tuesday – entirely unreported of course – when defence secretary John Hutton told the House of Commons Defence Committee that the Vector was the "least successful" of the armoured vehicles purchased by the MoD under the UOR process. "Mistakes were probably made there," he told the committee. Well done James Arbuthnot, who has amply made up for his earlier lapse.

The news, however, was not made official until yesterday, when the MoD announced that it was to withdraw the Vector from operations in Afghanistan after admitting "it is too vulnerable as roadside bombs get bigger."

The qualification is, of course, "spin" – corporate face-saving to avoid admitting that it bought the wrong vehicle which was never suitable for operations and always was going to kill people. With blast protection rated at the equivalent of two hand grenades, its capability to withstand even a single mine was nil.

Covering his employer's back, an MoD spokesman said that, "Since its introduction to theatre, the evolving threat from larger improvised explosive devices on operations has led to a requirement for more medium and heavy capability vehicles to withstand these devices."

Thus, said the spokesman, "Following the delivery of Mastiff 2, Ridgeback and vehicles from the protected mobility package announced [by the MoD] in October 2008, we intend to withdraw Vector from operations in Afghanistan. This will be a phased withdrawal and will not lead to any capability gap."

In fact, the Vectors have already been withdrawn. They are sitting in vehicle parks, unused by troops who have moved to the more heavily protected Mastiff. Ironically, manufacturers BAE Systems have still to complete the order, with 20 outstanding, which means they will come straight from the factory to the scrap heap.

This is at a cost (including the support element) of £487,000 each, the MoD having bought nearly 200 of these "coffins on wheels" as we called them back in July 2006. That is only just short of £100 million wasted on a piece of kit that should never have been bought. That is £100 million wasted, which could have been spent on better, life-saving kit. And the Army complains of being "underfunded".

The worst of it is that, as we recount here, the Army chose this killer as a replacement for the Snatch Land Rover and, when it proved more dangerous even than this vulnerable vehicle, the Snatch had to be kept in service and uparmoured to fill a gap of the Army's own making.

We have consistently opposed this vehicle, right from the early days, and have been warning of its unsuitability for well over two years, attracting the support of Ann Winterton and, finally, Gerald Howarth (who originally endorsed the machine). Thomas Harding of the Daily Telegraph also joined in, with a welcome piece.

Booker made some powerful interventions in The Sunday Telegraph, especially in August 2007, despite the interference of the MoD, which tried to stop us publishing with a "D-advisory" – the modern equivalent of a D-Notice.

We even had attempts by the manufacturers to sweet talk us, inviting us down to the factory in Guildford to see the virtues of this machine for ourselves. When we made the visit conditional on the managing director demonstrating the "safety" of the machine by driving over a live mine, we heard no more.

Nevertheless, we continued lobbying, and protesting and now, finally, the deed is done.

The interesting thing is that, although the Army made a serious error, as a result of which good men died unnecessarily, the withdrawal of this dreadful machine will get very little coverage in the MSM. And, having ignored the death toll from this machine, I confidently predict that the withdrawal will also be ignored by the so-called political blogs.

In fact, though, this is real politics – about holding government to account, challenging its decisions and forcing it to address its errors. This blog played its part. As a result of the efforts of many, men will live who would otherwise have died and families which otherwise would have suffered grievous loss will now be spared. Just occasionally, the system works.