Page last updated at 13:51 GMT, Wednesday, 29 October 2008

700m for British troop vehicles

Buffalo
British troops in Afghanistan will benefit from the Buffalo

British troops in Afghanistan stand to benefit from 700 new and upgraded vehicles offering more protection than they have now.

The prime minister said the 700m investment would provide troops with the "best practical protection" against the "developing threats" they faced.

It comes after the Taleban increased its use of roadside bomb attacks.

In the past five years, more than 30 UK soldiers have been killed in lightly-armoured vehicles in Afghanistan.

Protection issues

As part of the programme, the army will buy a new fleet of 400 heavy, medium and light support vehicles - called Wolfhound, Husky and Coyote - to carry out a range of tasks from field ambulances to ammunition supply for the Royal Artillery.

More than 100 new, larger and more heavily armoured tracked vehicles, which will be known as Warthog, will be replaced the Viking cross-country vehicle presently used for operations in Afghanistan.

The MoD has also pledged to buy a further 100 Jackal all-terrain vehicles.

A new type of specialist route clearance vehicle, called the Buffalo, is being developed to try and reduce the damage and death toll caused by roadside bombs and explosives.

Gordon Brown announced the 700m investment programme during Commons question time.

He said: "I believe one of the issues in Afghanistan that we have had to deal with is the provision of properly protected vehicles for our Armed Forces.

"In face of these new and developing threats this will mean that our Armed Forces have the best practical protection for the work that they do."

'Biggest threat'

The BBC's defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt has stated that the roadside bombs pose the biggest threat to those in the country.

She said: "They now account for almost 60% of coalition deaths, highlighting the vulnerability of vehicles such as the "Snatch" Land Rover still being used by British forces."

These modified, thin-skinned vehicles are designed to withstand small arms fire, but have been criticised for offering insufficient protection.

Corporal Sarah Bryant, the first British woman killed on duty in Afghanistan, and three male SAS reservists died on 17 June when their Land Rover was destroyed by a landmine.

And in August, Susan Smith, whose son Phillip Hewett died in Iraq in 2005, launched a damages action against the MoD that alleged "failures" over the use of snatch Land Rovers.

We cannot make Snatch invulnerable - any vehicle can be overmatched if faced with an overwhelming attack
John Hutton
Defence secretary

In a statement, she said the lightly armoured vehicles were "designed to provide no more than limited protection against ballistic threats, mainly small arms bullets", and offered "little or no protection against improvised explosive devices".

On Wednesday, the government announced that these Snatch Land Rovers will be upgraded to a new type called the Snatch Vixen which possesses more power and provides better protection.

Defence secretary John Hutton said it has always been a "priority" to get the right vehicles and equipment to the troops.

He defended the continued use of the Snatch though, and said the military still believed it was "mission critical" by the military.

"We cannot make Snatch invulnerable - any vehicle can be overmatched if faced with an overwhelming attack," he said.

"But these modifications mean that Snatch Vixen will offer the highest levels of protection for its size and weight class."

The MoD is contributing 120m to the project with the Treasury paying for the rest.

Negotiations are still on-going about who will supply the vehicles but contracts are expected to be in place before the end of this year.

The government hopes they will be in frontline use by the end of 2010.



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