When US, Canadian, French, German, Australian, Austrian or Danish soldiers go patrolling in Iraq and Afghanistan they travel in "mine-protected" vehicles, such as the RG-31, specially designed to defend them against the explosive devices favoured by the insurgents. Only British troops have to rely on unarmoured Snatch Land Rovers, which has led to the deaths of more than a quarter of those who have been killed in action.The picture we've shown on the left is the Australian Bushmaster Infantry Mobility Vehicle, currently in use in Iraq. It is an Australian designed and built vehicle, mine protected along the same lines as the RG-31.
This scandal was half-acknowledged last week by our Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, when he admitted to the Commons Defence Committee that there was a "capability gap" in the way our troops are equipped. He also acknowledged, as the Tory defence spokesman, Gerald Howarth, was quick to point out, that none of the billions of pounds that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is spending on military vehicles will provide our soldiers with those needed to fight counter-insurgency campaigns such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the name of equipping a fantasy army of the future to play its part in the European Rapid Reaction Force, the MoD has been happy to commit £14 billion to vehicles for its Future Rapid Effects System. It has already contracted to spend £413,000 each, twice the price of a Rolls Royce, on 401 Italian-made Panthers, "battlefield limousines" to ferry officers around behind the lines. But when it comes to equipping our troops to fight the very nasty wars in which they are already engaged, Gordon Brown has said there is no money left over. It is time this horrifying story was recognised for the major political scandal it has become.
It really has come to a pretty pass that we seem no longer able either to design or build our own armoured vehicles so that, while the MoD fritters away our money on Italian-built "battlefield limousines", our troops are still riding around in "Snatch" Land Rovers.