Army radios are utterly hopeless, says UK officer

War on Terrorism: Equipment
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The Independent Online

British forces have complained about an alarming rate of failure in secure radio communications during their exercise in Oman, which is seen as a dress rehearsal for the land war in Afghanistan.

An officer claims that about 85 radios in tanks and armoured vehicles broke down during Exercise Saif Sareea II, making the system highly unreliable in combat.

Major Charles Heyman, a military analyst who is the editor of Jane's World Armies, described the failure rate as "catastrophically high, quite astonishing".

Major Heyman said that, while a land war in Afghanistan in the near future would not require armoured vehicle units, the campaign could develop into a big armoured push after the winter.

The forces involved in the exercise are using the notorious Clansman system, which is almost 40 years old, comparatively easy to intercept and known for breaking down.

The radios, which have been used since the 1960s, are due to be replaced with hi-tech Bowman sets but, Major Heyman said, their introduction had been delayed until the end of next year because the Government wanted further refinements to be made.

Ministry of Defence officials insisted yesterday that the new system would become available in the event of ground operations in Afghanistan.

The Bowman took 12 years to develop, at a cost of £330m, according to a National Audit Office report. Defence sources say supplying it to an Afghan-istan force would mean denuding other units in the army involved in vital operations.

One officer said yesterday: "If we went to war today, we would not be able to sustain it. The radios are totally and utterly hopeless. The collapse rate is shocking, 85 radios here. If I was going to spend a week on an operation in my tank, I would need at least three or four radios, and perhaps 10 to be confident.

"The new radios are a year away. If we had to go to war anywhere this year or early next, there would be a serious problem. Of course we would be supported, but it would mean stripping down the radios from the vast majority of the rest of the Army."

The radios are said to have worked reasonably well in western Europe, but were unable to cope with hot and dusty conditions in Oman.

Clansman sets are used in Challenger 2 tanks, Warrior personnel carriers, Army Land Rovers and CVRT small armoured vehicles. Virtually all the radios in the Challengers had broken down at some stage, officers taking part in the exercise said.