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 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 01:28 GMT
How well-equipped are British troops?
Lt Col Piers Hankinson (left) with Tpr Andrew McMahon
Gearing up at the British base in Bergen, Germany
As the 30,000 British troops prepare to head for the Gulf, BBC special correspondent Ben Brown examines how well-equipped for combat the average soldier is.

The problems with some British weaponry is well documented.

Not all the Challenger II tanks, which broke down on exercised in Oman last year, have been adapted for desert use.

And the replacement of the SA80 rifle, which showed a tendency to jam in dusty conditions, is not complete so some troops are likely to still be armed with it.

There is a jealousy among the average British trooper here that the Americans seem to have supplies and stocks of everything

Paul Keetch MP
But what is less well known is that soldiers are also short of even the most basic of kit - their boots.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Paul Keetch is in Kuwait where some British troops are already stationed.

He says he has been shocked to learn how short of equipment the British are.

The Borrowers

They have acquired, he says, the nickname "The Borrowers" because the borrow so much from the Americans.

"There is a jealousy among the average British trooper here that the Americans seem to have supplies and stocks of everything," he said.

The situation is so bad, many are forced to buy the basics from mail order companies.

A recent Army survey found 55% of troops and 42% officers bought items of kit with their own cash because the felt what they had been issued with was inadequate.

Corporal Paul Culwick
Paul Culwick from Liverpool prepares to drive a Challenger II tank
Among the things they buy by post and from army surplus stores are sleeping bags and rucksacks.

Malcolm Silverman, of Silverman Military Equipment, says one of the most popular items he sells to service personnel is American boots.

And this is one of his busiest periods.

"At times of rapid deployment often the stocks aren't there, so they come to buy them here," he said.

But the Ministry of Defence says adequate supplies have been ordered and will be distributed in time.

Lord Bark told the House of Lords on Monday that contracts have been signed for some 20,000 boots and 180,000 lightweight trousers and jackets.


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