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Last Updated: Friday, 15 February 2008, 18:32 GMT
Dangers of military kit shortages
Captain Jim Philippson
Captain Jim Philippson was poorly armed, the inquest heard
Inadequately equipping troops is "unforgivable and inexcusable", the coroner at the inquest of Captain James Philippson has said - but shortages have become a much-reported reality in military life.

The Ministry of Defence says it is spending 6bn a year on new "world class" equipment and insists there have been huge improvements in the equipment and its supply in recent years.

But the latest inquest into Capt Philippson's death has highlighted the very real dangers of failing to properly equip soldiers.

Melting boots

A pre-Iraq war deployment exposed shortcomings with soldiers' boots that melted in the heat, vehicle engines that overheated, and rifles that jammed.

More recently, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Conservative MP Edward Leigh, said: "I think it's well-recognised now that our troops are seriously under-supported, under-provisioned, and as a result our own troops are now being fired at because they can't take stuff in helicopters.

"They're having to use under-protected Land Rovers and people are actually dying directly as a result of this procurement failure," he told BBC's File on Four in October 2006.

Sgt Steve Roberts
Sgt Roberts gave his flak jacket to another soldier

Sgt Steven Roberts, 33, of Cornwall, was one of the first casualties in the war when he was shot during a riot in Basra in March 2003.

At his inquest in 2006, it emerged he had been ordered to give up his enhanced body armour three days before his death, due to shortages.

Assistant coroner for Oxfordshire Andrew Walker described the delays in providing body armour to troops as "unforgivable and inexcusable".

Mr Walker said: "I have heard justification and excuse and I put these to one side as I remind myself that Sgt Roberts lost his life because he did not have that basic piece of equipment."

'Defeated by shortages'

On Friday, the same coroner spoke out at the inquest into the death of Captain James Philippson, 29, of 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery.

Capt Philippson, of Hertfordshire, died in a firefight with Taleban fighters, becoming the first casualty after troops were deployed to Helmand in June 2006.

The inquest heard how 7 Para soldiers had complained repeatedly about a lack of proper equipment, particularly standard night vision kits and weaponry.

Mr Walker said: "They (the soldiers) were defeated not by the terrorists but by the lack of basic equipment."

The inquest heard there were no more than four kits of machine guns and under-slung grenade launchers between 30 men.

This is not the first time delays in the supply chain have caused casualties in theatre - I cannot promise you it will be the last
Bob Ainsworth, Armed Forces minister

Mr Walker said sending troops into a combat zone without basic kit was "unforgivable and inexcusable" and "a breach of trust between the soldiers and those who govern them".

Armed Forces minister Bob Ainsworth acknowledged there had been a delay in the provision of night vision goggles to Capt Philippson but said there had been vast improvements to the provision of equipment in recent years.

"This is not the first time delays in the supply chain have caused casualties in theatre," he told BBC Radio 4's PM.

"I cannot promise you it will be the last. We are operating in very difficult, very complicated circumstances. Getting supplies to the frontline in difficult theatres will always be difficult.

'Sustained growth'

"There has been a huge improvement recognised by everybody in the kit, equipment and supplies to our people in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last couple of years."

According to the Ministry of Defence, defence spending has remained constant since 1997, at about 2.3% of GDP, including additional funding for Iraq and Afghanistan,

Currently, 6billion a year is spent on new "world class" equipment for the Armed Forces.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence said: "We are in the longest period of sustained real growth in the defence budget for over 20 years. The real terms defence budget will be some 11% higher by 2010/11 than in 1997.

"What matters is the capabilities that countries can deliver, rather than any comparison of levels of defence expenditure."

SEE ALSO
Coroner attacks MoD over failure
15 Feb 08 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Profile: Andrew Walker
16 Apr 07 |  UK
Coroner's catalogue of complaints
15 Feb 08 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Kit delays led to soldier's death
18 Dec 06 |  Bradford

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