Troops complain about faulty kit

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The Independent Online

Operation Saif Sareefa 2 in Oman has exposed a series of flaws in the fighting ability of Britain's armed forces.

Operation Saif Sareefa 2 in Oman has exposed a series of flaws in the fighting ability of Britain's armed forces.

MPs from the Commons select committee on defence returned to Westminster with a shopping list of complaints from Britain's frontline troops about equipment problems and penny pinching savings by the Ministry of Defence

They included:

* Desert boots – the MOD refused to supply desert boots to troops despite the 45C heat in the desert. Some troops developed trench foot.

* Challenger II – Britain's main battletank broke down frequently due to overheating when air filters were blocked by fine desert sand. The troops lacked spares and the rubber coverings on the tank tracks were wrecked by stones in the sand.

* Chinook helicoptor – lack of spares led to one Chinook, the war horse of the army, being stranded in the desert with its crew for six days, waiting for a new gearbox.

* SA80 – the assault rifle continued jamming in the dust of the desert, in spite of efforts by squaddies to cover it in protective webbing. Troops in Afghanistan have been promised an upgrade.

* Communications – the troubled Bowman radio system was scrapped last year, leaving the troops with Klansman, due for replacement. In Kosovo, troops could be overheard; some resorted to mobiles.

Liberal Democrat Paul Keetch was criticised for disclosing some of the failures in the Commons during the statement on the MoD's deployment of British forces to Afghanistan. The Independent on Sunday has learned the Commons select committee on defence will deliver a full report to the Government on the troops' complaints.

The disclosures do not mean British troops will be at greater risk in Afghanistan. With the onset of winter, British troops in Afghanistan will be issued with arctic kit, and their new-style SA80 rifles.

This is not the first time that British military equipment has been found wanting. A national Audit Office said after the Kosovo conflict that troops were dogged by a shortage of weapons, insecure radio communications and poor quality living conditions. There were also reports that the RAF ran short of laser guided bombs in Kosovo.

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, has guaranteed to meet the cost of all the extra defence spending as a result of the Afghanistan conflict, but the findings of the select committee, supported by Defence ministers, could add billions to the bill for Britain's defence. They are insisting that, as the threat from international terrorism is now the priority, long-term plans for defence, laid out in the last strategic defence review, will have to be revisited.

Ministers will tell the Chancellor that accounting tricks, such as delays to equipment purchases, to reduce the cost of defence, must end. They are more convinced than ever that they will need two new 50,000 tonne aircraft carriers – twice the size of the Illustrious currently deployed in the Gulf area – and a new assault ship to act as a floating base for future operations.

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