SUNDAY TELEGRAPH 10/7/05 Christopher Booker's notebook http://www.telegraph.co.uk/portal/main.jhtml?&_DARGS=/core/lowerHeaderBarFrag.jhtml Europeanisation of the British Army is coming on the double In what must rank as one of the most bizarre events in the history of British defence policy, a junior minister recently admitted that the cost of a single vehicles-and-weapons project for the British Army has soared in less than a year from Â£6 billion to Â£14 billion, making it by far the most costly military equipment programme ever planned. On a day when the front-bench defence teams were in Portsmouth for the Trafalgar review, only two MPs were present in Westminster Hall: Don Touhig, the minister, and Ann Winterton, the Tory MP who initiated the debate. What made this even more astonishing is that the project itself, planned as part of the EU's rush to establish its own integrated armed forces, independent of Nato, rules out any future British military partnership with the US, thus spelling an end to the Anglo-American "special relationship". The subject raised by Ann Winterton was the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES), the Ministry of Defence's plan to equip the British Army with a new generation of satellite-coordinated vehicles and weapons systems. Although planning for this project has been shrouded in secrecy, the aim of FRES - a cut-price version of the Future Combat System being developed for the US Army - is to equip the British Army to take part in the EU's 60,000-strong "rapid reaction force". Planning for this is being co-ordinated by the new European Defence Agency (EDA), set up in Brussels in January under a former MoD civil servant, Nick Witney. It was also for this purpose that the Government last year announced the restructuring of the Army, involving the abolition or merger of 19 historic regiments. On June 28, Mr Touhig dropped into his reply to Ann Winterton the admission that FRES will now involve the purchase of 3,500 vehicles at a cost of Â£14 billion (Â£4 million per vehicle). He did not add that this represents a massive escalation of the plan announced last year to spend Â£6 billion on 900 vehicles. The procurement cost now therefore equates to Â£600 for every taxpayer in the country. Furthermore the total "lifetime cost" of the original 900 vehicles, over 30 years, was given last year as Â£49 billion. When I asked the MoD last week for the "lifetime cost" of the 3,500 vehicles now proposed (which pro rata should be over Â£100 billion) it failed to reply. Mr Touhig also assured Ann Winterton that FRES would not rely on Galileo, the satellite system planned by the EU as a rival to the US's GPS. Galileo, he insisted, is only intended for civilian use. His officials clearly did not tell him that FRES must be built to a "European standard", which will ensure that it must rely on EU satellites rather than GPS and other US systems. This will make it impossible for FRES-equipped forces to operate alongside US forces in a battle zone, since each system will identify the units that are not integrated with it as potential enemies. The speed at which Britain is now being sucked into the new "European defence identity" is breathtaking. In another recent series of parliamentary questions, Ann Winterton eventually forced the MoD to come clean about another Â£166 million Army contract, for light multi-purpose vehicles to replace its Land Rovers and Saxons. The MoD originally stated that this was to be built by British Aerospace (the division which was formerly Alvis). But further questioning revealed that these 401 "Panthers" are in fact to be purchased, all but the roof, from an Italian firm Iveco, at Â£413,000 each, twice the cost of a Rolls Royce and four times that of the equivalent US Humvee. This follows the MoD's remarkable but almost unreported announcement last November that the Army's biggest ever trucks order, worth Â£1.6 billion, was going to Man-Nutzfahrzeuge in Germany. To the dismay of military experts, this was in preference to bids from two US-British consortia offering trucks of superior performance - which would also thus have retained thousands of British jobs - because EU defence procurement policy now insists that contracts with wholly "European" firms should be preferred to those with a US component. If the Â£20 billion we are shelling out for the useless Eurofighter, thanks to Michael Heseltine back in 1986, seems a high price to pay for EU defence integration, we can now see this was only the start of it. What is even more startling is the lengths to which our Government will go to hide it from view.