Remote mine system delayed by changes

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(First Edition) ONE of the projects whose handling by the Ministry of Defence was singled out for criticism by MPs yesterday is a means of laying fields of anti-tank mines from a distance - the 'Vehicle Launched Scatterable Mine System'.

The mines are laid for a short period, after which they destroy themselves.

An early version of the system, the French Minotaur, was used in the ground campaign in the 1991 Gulf war.

'Remotely delivered mines', as they are called, are useful to create safe corridors through which forces can advance. According to the House of Commons' Defence Committee's report, the system was adequate for the purpose for which it was used then, but not against future tanks.

Therefore, the MoD evaluated two new systems, one produced by GIAT of France and the other by Alliant Techsystems of Germany. It is estimated the MoD has already spent up to pounds 10m on evaluating the systems.

The in-service date has been delayed by two years, until 1996. The number of mines required was reduced in April 1992 because the threat of a Russian tank invasion was thought to have reduced. It was then increased again in 1993, on grounds of obtaining the best mix of mines, and finally reduced in April this year - to save money.

The report concludes that 'the various changes in the requirement for the number of VLSMA mines owe less to the changes in operational factors and more to budgetary constraints . . . in other words, the need to restrain cost increases in a project which was seen to be over-running badly and is in any event significantly over estimate.'