Soldiers on front line short of equipment, MPs warn

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Troops are "desperately short" of equipment on the front line in Afghanistan and Iraq, a cross-party committee of MPs warns in a report published today.

The Commons Select Committee on Defence warns that shortages of desperately needed equipment, including helicopters, are putting British troops at risk, reinforcing General Sir Mike Jackson's attack on the MoD over the "shameful" way it treats the armed forces.

In their report, the MPs criticise the MoD for bungling the ordering of Chinook helicopters from Boeing. The mistakes have resulted in eight helicopters being grounded in the UK when there is a desperate shortage of such equipment on the front line.

"During our visits to the UK armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq we were told that additional equipment was required urgently, such as the helicopters," the MPs said.

The MPs found the MoD had written off the helicopters at a cost of £205mbecause the software provided by the US manufacturers did not meet British military requirements.

The American makers blamed the MoD for failing to specify its requirements more accurately. The MoD is still in negotiations with the manufacturers, but it could be the next decade before they are passed as safe to fly by British forces.

The "sorry episode" of the helicopters is one in a long list of defence equipment blunders, the MPs say, which includes cost-over-runs or delays in the Eurofighter, Astute submarines and Nimrod MRA4 reconnaissance aircraft.

But they say it was made worse by the fact that the armed forces "desperately need heavy lift helicopters, yet eight such helicopters are sitting... in the UK and no one can tell us when they will be operational".

The MPs expressed concern this year at the risks posed to troops by a lack of armoured patrol vehicles.

Yesterday, they repeated the message from General Jackson, a former head of the Army, by welcoming the commitment by the Prime Minister to provide whatever equipment was necessary, but they urged the MoD to speed up the delivery.

The defence budget was increased by £600m in the pre-Budget report by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

An MoD spokesman said: "We haven't had any requests for additional helicopters since we sent out two additional Chinooks to theatre in July." He added that the "additional" resources announced by Mr Brown "is not new money - it is part of the rolling figure that relates to the cost of operations".

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