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Friday, 5 July, 2002, 10:02 GMT 11:02 UK
MoD investigates 'faulty' forces rifle
A soldier using the SA80-A2
The modified SA80 still jams, say Marines
Claims that the armed forces' new SA80-A2 rifle badly misfires are being urgently checked by a Ministry of Defence inquiry team.

Marines in Afghanistan have said the new guns failed on at least three occasions - despite 92m worth of modifications following complaints about the previous model.


If this turns out to be a continuation of the previous problems it is going to be very difficult to sustain this rifle

Bernard Jenkin
Tory defence spokesman

The MoD team is flying out to Afghanistan to check the weapons on the ground.

The news comes amid reports that the defence budget will be boosted by about 1bn in the chancellor's comprehensive spending review to be published later this month.

The new version of the SA80 - which has been the standard model for British soldiers for 12 years - was introduced this year, being brought in especially early for the Afghan mission.

'Still jamming'

Defence officials said when it first came out that it was among the most reliable 5.56mm guns in the world.

BBC correspondent Andrew Gilligan said the troops in Afghanistan - the first to actually use the SA80-A2 - complained the new model still jammed and could not cope with extreme heat, cold, sand or dust.

Earlier this week, Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram confirmed in the Commons that three official failure reports had been filed from Afghanistan.

Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary
The defence secretary is reported to have won a 1bn budget boost

That is despite almost no actual fighting by the Marines, the first troops to use the rifle.

Conservative shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin said it was too early to speculate on whether the failures were a major problem or were relatively minor.

Mr Jenkin told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If this turns out to be a continuation of the previous problems I think it is going to be very difficult to sustain this rifle in the British army.

"If you are fighting a war and you hesitate because you have not quite got the faith in the weapon that you should have that is obviously fatal."

On Thursday more than 300 marines arrived home following their three-month mission in search of al-Qaeda fighters.

They were the first of the UK's 4,000-strong force in and around Afghanistan to return home. Most will be back by August.

Budget hopes

Mr Ingram insisted the mission had been a success despite the absence of any direct combat, saying the marines had done a "fantastic job" in very difficult conditions.

Meanwhile, the Guardian has reported that the 24bn defence budget is about to be boosted by almost 1bn - about a 4% increase compared to the current 0.3% a year increase.

It could allow delayed procurement projects - such as the purchase of a new air-to-air refuelling tanker fleet - to be brought forward.

But the newspaper said the MoD would be expected to cut waste and inefficiency in return.

  • The public are being allowed in for the first time to the army's annual five-day showcase event in Larkhill, Salisbury, Wiltshire, which has previously been open only to the defence industry.

    Twelve thousand schoolchildren and cadets are expected to attend on Friday, which is Youth Day, along with Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.

    The Army has promised the biggest firepower demonstration ever staged.

  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Andrew Gilligan
    "The new rifle has been the subject of three formal failure reports"
    Shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin
    "You have to be clear you can fix this if you are going to spend 400 per rifle"
    See also:

    04 Jul 02 | UK
    03 Jul 02 | UK Politics
    23 Jun 00 | UK Politics
    Internet links:


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