Monday, 23 November 2009

Tanks for the memories

I came across this story this morning.

MoD spent £149m on tanks unfit for service

Shit! That's quite a lot of money. Sure, it's only 1.3% of October's debt, but still a decent slug of cash.

OK, first point, it's not a big one but it's the kind of thing that pisses me off. This story is not talking about tanks. There's a pretty big difference between an extremely heavily armed and armoured fighting device and a battlefield taxi that on a good day can stop an AK47 round (as long as it's not armour piercing).

This is a tank:
This is what we're talking about in this article:Yes, they both have caterpillar tracks, but then so does this and as far as I can tell, no-one thinks this is a tank:

Anyway, we've clearly demonstrated that these particular journalists have minimal idea what they're talking about when it comes to Military Equipment.

However, that doesn't mean their article has no point. It is important that there is oversight of MoD spend, maybe this is a good example of it. Let's have a look at what the work done was.

Well, it looks like they're referring to work that was done to upgrade 900 of the rather venerable FV432 vehicles with newer engines and brakes. Some of the vehicles were also up-armoured to help out in Iraq. The contract was completed in 2006. It also sounds like this contract was completed in pretty good time. In my experience "9 months" from contract to delivery may in fact be a record for the MoD (and BAE come to think of it!).

In fact, BAE did such a good job (well, we'll assume so anyway) that they got another contract to upgrade 400 more FV430s. Well, £85m for the first, £70m for the second (It's actually worth noting the second contract costs slightly more per vehicle, but nothing too outrageous by MoD standards).

OK, so we've now found the money. All £155m of it. Ah, bugger, should probably throw in the extra £15m for support for the first 500 and we can assume another £12m for the last 400.

So, the MoD actually spent £182 upgrading and supporting these "tanks", not "£149m". Well, either the MoD is playing loose with FOIs again, or the Journos forgot to do any research. Actually, there's a third option where BAE were able to deliver for less than asked, but I think we can all agree that's unlikely!

So, we've shown that this story is riddled with inaccuracies. However, the general point may be absolutely right - that we can't use these vehicles in Afghanistan due to the lack of roads and excessive volume of IEDs. Well, these contracts were placed some time ago, when various people still believed that Afghanistan could be fought with old equipment (with small upgrades). Obviously with the current threat levels out there, these tin cans would provide nowhere near the protection needed.

OK, so we can't use them in theatre, so obviously all that money was wasted. And £182m could buy a decent chunk of two Chinooks, or something otherwise useful. We've spent something like £200k per vehicle to keep them running for another 15+ years, we've now got a useful and sensibly sized fleet of armoured vehicles for training and for some support roles.

Basically, what has happened is that we spent an extremely small pile of cash in buying something that proved to be bloody useful in one theatre but useless in Afghanistan. This piece of equipment may not be vital now (but I'll bet that the training is appreciated) but it will save lives in the future.

We will not always be in Afghanistan. These vehicles work in a lot of theatres, recently they were working in Iraq. We cannot judge every single piece of equipment on how good it is in Helmand!

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