Page last updated at 16:34 GMT, Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Forces stick with Snatch vehicles

Snatch Land Rover
The Snatch Land Rover (above) is set to be replaced by the Snatch Vixen

Snatch Land Rovers are to remain in use in Afghanistan and Iraq, Defence Secretary John Hutton has said.

The lightly armoured vehicles have been criticised for offering insufficient protection to troops from bomb blasts.

Mr Hutton told MPs military commanders believed the vehicles were "essential" - but they would be quickly replaced by better-protected Snatch Vixen models.

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said it was a "national disgrace" that UK troops were put at "unnecessary risk".

'Clear advice'

Mr Hutton also said that there would not be a public inquiry into the use of Snatch Land Rovers.

These are matters on which I must rely on the considered judgement of military commanders
John Hutton
Defence Secretary

He said in a written statement to MPs: "The clear advice to me from military operational commanders, unanimously endorsed by the Chiefs of Staff, is that Snatch remains essential to the success for our operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"In the light of this authoritative assessment, I have decided that it would be inappropriate and unnecessary to conduct an inquiry.

"These are matters on which I must rely on the considered judgement of military commanders who have experience of conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan and access to specialised military engineering expertise."

The government has announced a £700m investment in new and upgraded vehicles offering more protection to UK forces.

Basic Snatch 2A models are set to be phased out by the Snatch Vixens and would eventually be used only inside British camps.

The government is also buying hundreds more heavily-armoured vehicles such as Bulldogs and Mastiffs.

'Investment failure'

Mr Fox said: "According to John Hutton the Snatch should eventually be used 'only within our bases'.

"The fact that they are still being used elsewhere is testament to Labour's failure to invest in sufficient armoured vehicles during the years our forces have been operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The fact that our brave troops are put at unnecessary risk is a national disgrace."

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey said ministers had acted "shamefully late".

"Lives may well have been saved if this decision had been taken earlier," he said.

"When troops nickname a vehicle a 'mobile coffin', it should have rung alarm bells, but the government dithered and delayed for far too long."

Manoeuvrability

Last month the Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, told the BBC that UK forces wanted to continue using Snatch Land Rovers.

"I speak to commanders all the time and they tell me unequivocally that they need a vehicle that has the size and manoeuvrability of Snatch in order to be able to conduct their mission," he said.

It came after SAS Commander Maj Sebastian Morley was reported to have condemned the continued use of the vehicles when he resigned from the armed forces.

Some 37 British personnel have died while travelling in Snatch Land Rovers on operations.

Col Charlie Clee, who is in charge of assessing vehicle needs on the front line, is to prepare a report into how many lives have been protected by Snatch.

He said: "Against conventional blasts, Snatch is not bad for its size and weight."

He said the Cheetah, which has been suggested as an alternative, was "simply too small in terms of capacity".



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