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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 June 2006, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Q&A: Army Land Rover row
The use of Snatch Land Rovers by the British Army has become controversial after several high-profile roadside bomb attacks in Iraq.

What does the army use them for?

Snatch Land Rovers are officially categorised as Protected Patrol Vehicles.

Land Rover
The Land Rover rose to prominence in Northern Ireland

They are used in peacekeeping missions and other operations where troops need quick land transport.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman explained that tanks are often too big and too slow, cumbersome and likely to annoy civilian populations.

"You can't exactly go downtown Basra in a battle-tank," he said.

The Land Rovers are fortified with armour to offer the troops protection against explosions and ballistics, the spokesman added.

They also have electronic counter-measures (ECMs) - designed to detect roadside bombs before they explode.

Their use became widespread in Northern Ireland as a cheap and speedy way of transporting troops during the Troubles.

Why are they controversial?

A number of incidents in Iraq have thrown the spotlight on the Land Rovers.

Humvee
The US Humvee is thought to have similar failings to the Land Rover

Insurgents have begun to use roadside bombs against British forces - killing several soldiers.

Families of dead soldiers have complained that the Land Rovers do not provide enough protection.

Nineteen-year-old Gordon Gentle was killed by a roadside bomb in Basra in 2004 while travelling in a Land Rover.

The MoD launched a review of his equipment, including the protection offered by the Land Rover.

They found that the vehicle's ECMs had been working properly, but had not protected him.

Despite this, the MoD concluded the vehicle was suitable and appropriate for the purpose.

Roger Bacon, whose son Matthew was killed by a roadside bomb last September, renewed the controversy recently when he claimed that the Land Rovers had not given his son enough protection.

Defence Secretary Des Browne responded by promising to review the use of the vehicles in Iraq.

The Land Rovers were again in the news on Tuesday, when two soldiers in Afghanistan were killed by Taleban insurgents.

They had been travelling in a Land Rover that was destroyed by a rocket-propelled grenade - although they were not thought to have been killed by the explosion.

What are the alternatives?

Critics of the Army say the vehicles are an outdated, cheap alternative to the more modern equipment used by the US and South Africa.

US forces use Humvee vehicles. But these come in for similar criticism to the Land Rovers and are thought to be susceptible to roadside bombs and grenades.

Others have suggested that vehicles used by the South African army - RG31s - should have been bought to replace Land Rovers.

But RG31s are designed to protect against landmines, not the kind of explosives the Army deals with in Iraq.

Lord Drayson, defence procurement minister, said recently the Army used RG31s in Bosnia, but took them out of commission due to maintenance problems.

He said the "size and profile" of the RG31s did not match the Army's requirements, and they could not access urban areas the Land Rovers could.

Other armoured vehicles that the Army already uses, such as the Warrior, have been suggested.

But these are much bigger and less mobile than the Snatch Land Rover.

The MoD has argued that their Land Rovers have enough counter-measures to make them safe for peacekeeping patrols.

They say that the equipment they use is under constant review, along with the tactics and electronic counter-measures.

UK ARMY SNATCH LAND ROVER AND THE RG-31 ALTERNATIVE
Snatch Land Rover and RG-31
Name: Snatch Land Rover
Defences: Armour to protect against explosions and ballistics; roadside bomb detectors
Strengths: Quick land transport for up to six troops
Weaknesses: Questions over level of protection offered
Cost: Approximately 50,000
Name: RG-31 - made by OMC
Defences: All-steel armoured hull protects against mines and small arms fire
Strengths: V-shaped underside pushes blast outwards
Weaknesses: Questions over mobility and maintenance
Cost: Approximately 250,000






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