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UK troops' vehicles fail every day
WESTMINSTER EDITOR (firstname.lastname@example.org)
THE lives of British soldiers are being put at risk because of the spiralling failure rate of armoured vehicles used in the effort to keep a lid on violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
New figures released by the Ministry of Defence reveal that the most crucial vehicles protecting troops from insurgent attacks are failing on a daily basis - and the number of complaints made by crews is higher than in the months immediately after Saddam Hussein was removed from power.
Crews from a range of vehicles, including battle tanks and reconnaissance vehicles, reported almost 450 failings in just six months up to the end of last October. At least eight further incidents were deemed so serious that they could have placed personnel in mortal danger.
Since the start of the war, Challenger II main battle tanks and Warrior armoured fighting vehicles, the war horses of the British fleet on the ground in Iraq, have shown steep increases in the number of failure reports, with Warrior crews now issuing official complaints about their vehicles more than once a day.
The apparent deterioration in the reliability of Britain's armoured vehicles comes almost four years after Lance Corporal Barry Stephen, the first Scottish soldier to die in combat in Iraq, was caught in an ambush after his ageing FV432 vehicle broke down.
Last night, opposition politicians, military experts and the new soldiers' 'union' claimed the details underlined the need for troops to be given the best kit available - and for it to be scrupulously maintained in the harshest of conditions. They also warned that, although not all of the faults will have caused injury, even the smallest malfunction could put the lives of British troops in danger.
The MoD's list of operational malfunctions among the armoured vehicle fleet reveals that Challengers failed 132 times between May and October last year - a rate of one complaint every 1.39 days.
In the 32-month period from March 21, 2003, immediately after the fall of Saddam, to December 15, 2005, tank crews reported a failure once every 2.5 days. Warriors used in Iraq failed once every 2.38 days up to the end of 2005, but by last October the technical problems had spiralled to the point where British forces received a complaint about the vehicles every single day.
The MoD's revelations list 389 Equipment Failure Reports (EFRs) in Iraq alone between last May and October, when the Coalition was hoping to wind down its presence in the country.
A further nine incidents involving Challengers and Warriors are listed as Serious Equipment Failures (SEFs). Armed forces minister Adam Ingram explained that an SEF is defined as "a failure or suspected failure that results in, or has the potential to result in, personal injury, loss of life or serious damage". The MoD estimates that up to half of the more than 120 British military deaths during the Iraq campaign have been caused by accidents.
MoD officials last night attempted to play down the significance of the new revelations, claiming that the department maintained the highest standards of equipment for the forces. A spokeswoman said many of the faults listed may have been "relatively minor - like a blown headlight bulb".
But critics last night vowed to use the findings as new ammunition in the long-running argument about the degree of protection provided by Whitehall bureaucrats for forces expected to risk their lives in war zones.
Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said the Tories would demand answers from the government over the equipment provided in Iraq, to ensure it maintained high standards of protection for the 8,000 troops still on the ground.
He said: "There is a great deal of concern about this issue of equipment and there has been for a long time. We will be asking the government for a full explanation of exactly what is going on on the ground. The state of equipment is one of the areas we will be watching."
Charles Heyman, a former British Army Major, said the rising toll of failures was caused by the huge demands placed on ageing equipment on a daily basis. He said: "The British forces have to cope with their old equipment in some very difficult theatres and I have heard howls of rage about the dangers this has caused for a long time."
A spokesman for the British Armed Forces Federation, which represents servicemen and women, said: "If you are fighting heavy engagements against any enemy you need your kit to be up to the highest standards, and if it isn't we would expect the maintenance operation to be first-rate."