Britain undecided on armed vehicles

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The Independent Online
THE British Army is awaiting orders to send up to 1,800 troops to protect relief convoys in Bosnia. But it has not decided what sort of force to send. The reinforced battalion group might not be all British. If other countries offer forces it might contain a foreign component, possibly Dutch.

The army's options are constrained by the vehicles it has available and the routes it has to protect. They are either too big for certain routes or not heavily armed enough. 'At the moment there's not a UN plan which incorporates these people. We've yet to be given a task,' said a staff officer yesterday. 'Which convoy are we to protect, from where, to where, on which route? We need a route recce.' The British force is likely to be a balanced one centred on an infantry battalion in armoured vehicles. But none of the vehicles available is ideal.

Army sources indicated yesterday that armoured infantry in Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles were the front runners. The Warrior is designed for fast moving armoured warfare on the plains of northern Europe or the desert. It weighs 25 tons and could be too wide and heavy for some of the mountain roads and bridges. If Warriors are used, they will be limited to certain routes. But Warrior is fast, good across country and heavily armoured and armed with the 30mm Rarden cannon which can tear a tank apart. Its formidable appearance alone could be an important advantage in a psychological campaign against Serbian irregulars. 'The thing has to look impressive. It has to overawe them. Bullshit is important,' said one officer.

Warrior-mounted infantry are likely to come from 1st and 3rd Armoured Divisions in Germany but there are more than 100 Warriors in southern England as well.

The British FV-432 Armoured Personnel Carrier is similar to the US M-113 used in Bosnia with some success by the Canadians, although heavier. But it is old - 'clapped out' was one of the kinder phrases yesterday - and does not carry a heavy weapon.

The Saxon wheeled armoured personnel carrier is light and fast. 'It's new, it works, it's reliable,' said an officer who had served on all three types of vehicle. But it has a big turning circle - awkward in mountains - and lacks a intimidating heavy weapon.