In July 2003, the Defence Procurement Agency of the UK Ministry of Defence announced that the BAE Systems Land Systems' (formerly Alvis) Multirole Light Vehicle (MLV) had been selected as the British Army's Future Command and Liaison Vehicle (FCLV).
The first procurement contract was signed in November 2003 for an initial 401 vehicles, with an option for up to 400 more. The vehicle was named the Panther Command and Liaison Vehicle (CLV) and is to be built during the period 2006 to 2009 and will replace a range of vehicles which are reaching the end of their operational lives, for example the Land Rover, Saxon, FV432 and a number of Combat Vehicle (Reconnaissance) Tracked.
So far, so good – a minor piece of news about a new piece of hardware for the Army, although the costs might make you suck your teeth. For something little more than a GT runabout, the total cost (without radios) for 401 vehicles is £166 million, equating to £413,000 each. A top-of-the-range Rolls-Royce would come cheaper.
But the significant thing about the announcement is what it does not say. Any casual reader would gain the impression that this was a British-made vehicle, for the British Army, produced by BAE Systems Land Systems, a British company. The only hint of foreign involvement is a single line in the announcement stating that the Panther is "based on a design by Iveco Defence Vehicles Division of Italy".
This impression is reinforced by the Defence Procurement Agency data sheet which, under the category "International Collaboration" reported: N/A.
Given that the vehicle is based on an Italian design, however, that claim did not ring quite true so Conservative MP Anne Winterton put in a written question to the Department of Defence asking what the design, manufacture and licence costs were being paid to Iveco and other non-UK contractors. She got the reply on 8 June, which was a model of obscurity.
Defence procurement minister Adam Ingram simply stated that the licence cost paid to Iveco and to non-UK contractors "is withheld given its confidential nature."
At this stage, there was still no indication other than this was a British-made vehicle. Undaunted, Anne Winterton put in another question, this time asking whether BAE Systems Land Systems and would be purchasing any of the body (excluding armour) and drive components for for the manufacture of the Panther. She also asked what difference there was between the body, engine, gearboxes, drive mechanism and wheels of the Panther, and the Italian Light Multirole Tactical vehicle, on which it was apparently based.
Ingram replied on 27 June, stating that there would be “no significant difference in the body, engine, gearbox, drive mechanism or wheels.” He then went on: "BAE Systems Land Systems will purchase a complete base vehicle from Iveco. This will include the drive components and the vehicle body but will exclude the roof."
In other words, it is not a British vehicle at all, but one of Italian design, made in Italy, all bar the roof. And hey presto, looking up the the Italian Light Multirole Tactical vehicle, made by Iveco Spa Defence Vehicles Division in Bolzano, Italy, what do we see? A Panther.
On the back of the MoD purchase of German MAN trucks, this is yet another major defence contract that has gone to a European supplier. But what is so remarkable is the lengths the MoD has gone to conceal the fact. This is Europeanisation by stealth.
Furthermore, it is perhaps germane to note that the US equivalent is the armoured HMMWV (Humvee) which - against the unit cost of the Panther of £413,000 – cost approximately $180,000 each.