Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we on these Benches, too, extend our condolences to the family of the soldier killed in Afghanistan yesterday. Our thoughts at this time are also with the two soldiers who were seriously injured yesterday, and we wish them a speedy recovery. I thank the Minister for his reply and understand completely that any answer that he gives must not prejudice troop protection, but the Snatch Land Rover is not remotely adequate for patrolling areas where insurgents use landmines. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government will provide our soldiers with equipment that is fit for this role? What assessment have the Government made of the RG-31 which, with its V-shaped undercarriage, has a greater resilience to IEDs and which the Americans have bought in large numbers just for this role?
Lord Drayson: My Lords, I do not accept that Snatch Land Rovers are not appropriate for the role.
(26 June 2006)
Mr. Ruffley: Nearly a quarter of the British soldiers lost in hostile action in Iraq were in Snatch Land Rovers at the time. Those vehicles are widely recognised to be inadequately armoured to withstand roadside bombs, and are consequently seen as a soft target for insurgents. In the interests of preventing unnecessary deaths, will the Secretary of State tell us which specific vehicles he is considering deploying as replacements for Snatch Land Rovers in Iraq?
Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. The Snatch Land Rover was a popular option earlier in the campaign in Afghanistan, because it was mobile and a good all-rounder, and had the right profile to help our troops to engage with the people of Basra in Multi- National Division (South-East). I think Members will appreciate that a vision of our troops thundering down narrow streets with battle tanks was not exactly what we wanted to convey to the people of Basra and other parts of south-east Iraq. Things are changing. As I have said, the level of violence in Basra has increased. I will not go into detail for obvious reasons, but the weapons that the terrorists are using have changed radically, as I have seen for myself on visits. I have seen that that is a serious issue, and have asked for a review.
Dr. Fox: Clearly, there is an increased risk. Lord Drayson told the other place recently that in Iraq, the Snatch Land Rover “provides the mobility and level of protection that we need.”— [ Official Report, House of Lords, 12 June 2006; Vol. 12, c. 2.] Fusilier Gordon Gentle was killed by a road-side bomb way back in June 2004, and since then other soldiers have been killed who would have survived if they had been in properly armed vehicles. Snatch Land Rovers do not offer the level of protection that our troops need in Iraq, yet we continue to use them. Why are our troops not given the level of protection that they need, and which American troops already enjoy? Commanders cannot deploy vehicles that they do not have.
Des Browne: As I have already said to the House, it is open to commanders to deploy vehicles that have heavier protection than the Snatch Land Rover and they have to make— [Interruption.] Other vehicles are available to them; there is a choice.
(16 Oct 2007)
Ann Winterton: ...The fact is that those at the top of the military seem to have become obsessed with high-tech, high-priced, overcomplicated new equipment. Let us take the case of the FRES vehicles; they were originally expected to be on stream by about 2010, but we will be lucky if it is 2020. It may even be later than that.
Mr. Kevan Jones: Rubbish.
Ann Winterton: The hon. Gentleman says “rubbish”, but I think that the point was even admitted at the Dispatch Box in debate last week. In the meantime, there is a great hole; we have insufficient numbers of the right vehicles.
Mr. Jones: I wish that the hon. Lady would do her research, and that she understood what she was talking about when making statements such as the one that she just made. I have pressed the Defence Committee hard on the subject that she raises; I am the one who has been pressing for an in-service date. Lord Drayson, the Minister with responsibility for defence procurement, has made it clear to the Committee on numerous occasions that 2012 is the in-service date.
Having seen the rapid progress that he is making with that programme, I now have more faith that it will be in service by 2012. To say that may not happen until 2020 is absolute rubbish.
Ann Winterton: The hon. Gentleman expresses his opinion. We will have to wait and see who is right. I hope that we are both in the House in 2012, and that we will recall this conversation on the Floor of the House. In the meantime, the real needs of the present have been overlooked, and the hard-learned lessons of the past appear to have been forgotten. So many people thought that Iraq would be another Northern Ireland, where the use of Snatch Land Rovers was appropriate, but they were completely wrong, and many people have lost their lives or been maimed as a result. I have always given the Government credit for the provision of, and improvements to, equipment such as helmets and body armour, and surveillance equipment and electronic countermeasures that use the latest technology. That is in addition to armoury for the infantry. It is in the provision of larger equipment that things have gone horribly wrong.
FRES: Programme restructuring:
After General Dynamics had its preferred bidder status withdrawn in December 2008, the Ministry of Defence decided to restructure the programme. The utility vehicle programme has been scheduled to restart towards the end of 2010. The UK MoD's Defence Equipment and Support agency has focused its attention on the tracked variants of the FRES programme; most notably the Specialist Vehicle. The FRES Integrated Project Team (based at MoD Abbey Wood) has disbanded. The UV element has been put on hold; its future hangs in the balance of the Strategic Defence Review, scheduled for early 2010. The SV element has joined with the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP) to form a new Medium Armoured Tracks Team (MATT). The two programmes share the Common Cannon and Ammunition Programme; whereby a new 40mm Cannon will be the main armament to both the upgraded Warriors and the new Specialist Vehicle.
This week the Prime Minister said 200 new vehicles would be provided to replace the Snatch Land Rovers, which are so vulnerable to IEDs. He was told that 400 were needed.