Army builds up vast surplus of vehicles

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Indy Politics
MINISTRY of Defence officials have commandeered an RAF base at Kemble in Wiltshire to store more than 1,000 army tanks, trucks and armoured cars no longer required in Germany.

About 1,200 vehicles are being kept at Kemble pending a decision about their future. So large is Operation Drawdown, the scaling back of the British Army on the Rhine, that numbers are increasing daily. Officials had hoped to be able to close Kemble this year, but will be keeping it open as an 'overspill vehicle park' until well into next year.

The chances of eventually selling them to other armies and military enthusiasts are not good. Of 1,800 vehicles stored in Germany in March 1993 prior to their transfer back to Britain, 1,100 were declared unserviceable. According to a report published today by the National Audit Office, the public spending watchdog: 'About 35 per cent of the vehicles . . . had been on the site for over 12 months and 23 had been in storage for seven years.'

In the largest convoy of equipment undertaken by the Army in modern times, larger than the task forces to the Falklands or the Gulf, 3,000 armoured vehicles, 15,000 trucks, 1 million spares and 20,000 tonnes of ammunition are on the move. The scale of the operation is enormous: all the vehicles are being driven individually by military drivers from bases in Germany, on to ships at Antwerp in Belgium.

The report acknowledges the difficulty of the task, which has been exacerbated by the return of equipment to Britain from the Gulf. Nevertheless, it concludes that some of the problems could and should have been avoided.

In one episode, 120 containers worth of stores flown back from Germany were kept unopened at a depot in Donnington, Leicestershire, for 12 months or more. During that time no one from the MoD knew what was in them.

Already a nightmare, accounting for the movements has been made worse by the Army's old- fashioned, non-computerised systems. When army vehicles, weapons and ammunition are sent from one depot to another, the sender is issued with a voucher. Until the receipt is issued at the other end, the account for the equipment remains open. To the concern of the NAO, records have been incomplete and gone missing. In one case, a whole batch of uncleared vouchers was uncovered for a consignment of vehicles, sub-machine guns, rifles and other automatic weapons.

An internal investigation was ordered and officials subsequently reassured the NAO the weapons had not physically been lost.

Troops have fared little better than their equipment. Of 23 units returning home, three have been placed in temporary accommodation while building or renovation work takes place at their future base. The others went direct to their quarters with the building work going on around them. In all, the MoD has earmarked pounds 400m for the building works over the next three years.