Announced by Gordon Brown in a Commons statement today, and clothed in more detail by an MoD press release, the MOD plans to order 150 additional specialist, protected vehicles, specifically for Afghanistan.
The new vehicles will be called Ridgeback and, says the statement, will represent a further spend of over £150M on protection for our forces, fully funded from the Treasury Reserve.
We are told that work is currently ongoing to identify the vehicle type. "A number of solutions have been looked at, including off-the-shelf products," is all the MoD will say. However, this seems to be the smaller (than the Mastiff) MRAP vehicle, something in the range of the 4x4 Cougar (pictured), Bushmaster and Golan category. The 4x4 Cougar, in particular, has already been deployed in Afghanistan by US forces (pictured).
We are also told that the UK will be sending additional Sea King helicopters to Afghanistan, expected to deploy in the spring. However, these are not standard versions. They have been fitted with new, advanced composite rotor blades (the so-called "Carson" blades - pictured left) which substantially improve "hot and high" performance, also giving additional payload, speed and range on the same fuel capacity. The machines, therefore, will bring much needed and welcome additional capacity.
Also, Gordon Brown revealed that, through Nato, moves are being made to acquire helicopters from private contractors, to give back-up logistic support, and negotiations are continuing on this. One hopes it they will not get bogged down in the endless bureaucracy for which Nato is notorious.
Altogether though, this is good news for the Armed Forces and, in that the inventory of protected vehicles is being enlarged, a sign that the Army has finally realised that mine and ambush protection are a vital part of the armoury of any modern counter-insurgency force.