United Kingdom newspapers are reporting that more than half of the new armoured vehicles sent to Afghanistan for the British Army are out of service
The Times newspaper in London says figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats political party in the House of Commons (Parliament) have revealed that only 134 of the 271 Mastiffs [a British-configured 6×6 version of the US Force Protection Inc Cougar mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle], the heaviest and most protective of the Army’s armoured vehicles in Afghanistan, are “fit for purpose”.
“The same poor service history is also affecting the new Ridgeback vehicles which are being used for the first time by 11 Light Brigade in Afghanistan. In written Commons answers, the Liberal Democrats were told that nearly 40 per cent of Ridgebacks (pictured) were not operational at present,” The Times adds. The Daly Telegraph said only 73 of 118 Ridgebacks, a 4×4 version of the Cougar, were operational.
The Mastiff and Ridgeback are examples of the new type of heavily armoured, mine-resistant, wheeled patrol vehicles used by the Army on operations in Afghanistan, the paper says. They provide much greater protection to personnel than the lightly armoured Snatch Land Rover which has proved so vulnerable to roadside bombs.
The Daily Telegraph noted the vehicles, ranging from lightly protected patrol models – such as the Snatch Land Rover to more heavily protected MRAP types, “have either proven vulnerable to insurgent roadside bombs and the topography and climate of Afghanistan, or have been pulled from service due to the need for repairs and refurbishment.”
Willie Rennie, Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: “These worrying figures undermine Labour’s [the governing Labour party] claim that our troops have the armoured vehicles they need. The Government says more Mastiffs and Ridgebacks are protecting our troops from roadside bombs but now we find only half of them are fit for purpose.
“We must make sure our troops have the kit they need to do their job as safely as possible. Mere promises are not enough. Gordon Brown has to deliver.”
Announcing in November that there was now enough equipment in Afghanistan to deploy extra troops, Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, said: “[There are] a lot more Mastiffs, almost double the number of Mastiffs than we had before.”
He said the better-armoured vehicles, such as the Mastiff and Ridgeback, were “now beginning to flow into theatre in considerable numbers”.
“The Mastiff is a fantastic vehicle and the fact that we’ve now got almost twice as many as we had a few months ago is a big boon to people,” Ainsworth said at the time.
Under fire from all sides since 2006 due to the growing list of British casualties in Afghanistan which have stemmed from improper or insufficient kit, the MoD has rushed to provide improved armoured vehicles (thus the Mastiff and Ridgback UOR orders) and has placed UOR orders for armoured tactical support vehicles (the Coyote, Husky and Wolfhound), the Daily Telegraph added.
The MoD has spent £1.3 billion on armoured vehicles over the past three years, The Times added. The Daily Telegraph said the MRAPs were procured under Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) contracts extended in late 2007 and 2008.
The latter paper noted the vehicles were only deployed in Afghanistan in June last year adding that this was “begging the question as to how many units have atrophied either through climactic conditions or combat damage.”
Neither paper answer that question however, or provide information on the repairablity of the vehicles. Critics note that “unfit for service” is “a dangerous blanket term because you will find that it covers a massive amount of sins when it comes to maintenance and repair”. In many instances “a day or two in the repair shop will have it fit for service.” They also note that combat damage cannot be labelled “MoD or Army incompetence” as the test then is whether the vehicles protected the troops inside from blast damage.
The MoD has also withdrawn the highly-criticised Snatch Land Rovers from outside-of-base duties in Afghanistan. The lightly-protected Snatch Land Rovers proved particularly vulnerable to insurgent IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Public criticism focused on why vehicles originally designed and purchased for patrolling duties in Northern Ireland would be used for operations in vastly different circumstances in Afghanistan and Iraq, the paper said.
“Scrambling to retain a light-patrol vehicle element for the Afghan and Iraqi theaters, the MoD pushed out an enhanced version of the original vehicle, the Snatch Vixen, in 2008. Some 150-200 Snatch Vixens were procured, though these also proved vulnerable to roadside bombs despite the additional armour and counter-IED measures installed,” the Daily Telegraph added.
“The MoD is now looking to place an urgent operational requirement order for 400 new Light Protected Patrol Vehicles (LPPVs) to replace the Snatch Land Rovers. Only 358 of the total 653 are in workable condition.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesman responded to the reports that nearly “three quarters of our vehicles are ready for operations, but we operate in demanding conditions and of course a minority will sometimes require repairs. “Our forces do a great job of maintaining vehicles and getting them back on the frontline as quickly as possible.”