Page last updated at 23:01 GMT, Monday, 12 October 2009 00:01 UK

MPs attack defence kit planning

A Merlin helicopter in 2005
Merlin helicopters have been affected by shortages of spare parts, MPs say

Shortages of spare parts for military vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan have been caused by "inadequate" Ministry of Defence planning, MPs have warned.

The MoD procurement process had led to a lack of spare parts for helicopters and ground vehicles, a Commons Public Accounts Committee report said.

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said the system was "creaking" in key areas.

But Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell insisted that "huge improvements" had been made in procurement.

In July the government faced criticism over the availability of helicopters for troops in Afghanistan.

'Cannibalisation'

The report said that shortages of spare parts had affected Mastiff protected patrol vehicles as well as Merlin and Apache helicopters.

It said that the Vector, bought to replace the lightly-armoured Snatch Land Rovers, performed so badly it had to be withdrawn and replaced with upgraded Snatches.

At one stage only 20% of Mastiffs were classified as "fit", although the situation had improved since.

Problems with reliability have sometimes emerged only after the kit has actually been deployed
Edward Leigh
Public Accounts Committee chairman

The report added that "cannibalisation" of helicopters to support crews in Iraq and Afghanistan has led to an 11% shortfall in helicopters available for training and other operations.

Additionally, it warned that the MoD has "failed to meet consistently its own supply chain targets for both Iraq and Afghanistan", with only 57% of demands made in Afghanistan and 71% made in Iraq met since July 2007.

The MoD was criticised for its reliance on the system of emergency procurements.

While the report said that while most of the equipment acquired through the urgent operational requirement (UOR) system had performed well, there had been problems.

"Inadequate logistic information prevents the Department from identifying stocks that could be routinely delivered," it said, putting unnecessary pressure on air supplies.

The report also said that a "shortage of appropriate equipment" and "delays in replicating Middle Eastern environments" had meant the proportion of soldiers and Royal Marines who were not training with their units before deploying was increasing.

Missing targets

Additionally, it noted that more effective body armour has contributed to "a considerable weight for soldiers to carry whilst on foot patrol, making it challenging to move quickly and freely while under fire". The study recommended further efforts to reduce the weight of equipment.

Mr Leigh said the fact that the MOD was failing to meet its own supply chain targets was a matter for concern.

"This equipment has mostly performed well. But the serious downside is that problems with reliability have sometimes emerged only after the kit has actually been deployed," he said.

"The MoD's high degree of reliance on this procurement process must be questioned."

Mr Rammell welcomed the report and promised a full MoD response in due course, but insisted that the situation was improving.

He added: "We have made huge improvements in meeting supply chain targets to get supplies to the front line, overcoming challenges posed by enemy action, climate and terrain.

"Over the last 12 months vital supplies delivered to theatre have included some 500 vehicles, 2,000 tonnes of ammunition and 1,100 tonnes of fresh rations.

"We will not compromise on the quality of training and we have purchased additional vehicles for the training fleet."

Procurement - particularly in relation to helicopters - has become a hugely controversial political issue.

In particular, questions have been raised about the number and availability of UK military helicopters deployed in Afghanistan - with some commentators blaming the government for not providing enough.

It has also been argued that the UK could reduce its casualty rate if more soldiers were ferried to operations by air, rather than riskier land routes.

But the government has insisted that the UK has enough helicopters to meet operational needs.



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