Thursday, September 14, 2006

A coffin containing one of the serviceman is slow-marched from a C17 plane as a military band plays.
Picture copyright The Daily Telegraph.

It was very sad to read yesterday of the repatriation of the 14 servicemen during a dignified ceremony at the surveillance plane's home base RAF Kinloss after their RAF Nimrod crashed in Afghanistan. All the personnel on board at the time of the crash were killed.
The men who died were true heroes- their country owes them a huge debt. The crash brings the total number of British military personnel killed in Afghanistan since November 2001 to 36.
However, the crash does raise questions over the state of our armed forces equipment. The Nimrod itself was ancient (over 30 years old) but the design is much older than that; the airframe is actually based on the DeHavilland Comet, the first commercial jet airliner. Is it really appropriate that our forces are operating aircraft at the limits of their capability, based on obsolete early-1950s technology? The scandal is that we are not giving our servicemen the tools to do the job.
For example, British troops in Iraq are being sent out on patrol in vulnerable 1970 and 80’s vintage Land Rovers that were lightly armoured "snatch" vehicles - named after their role in grabbing Ulster rioters - which have proved ineffective against roadside bombs.
Blast-suppressant foam has yet to be fitted to all Hercules transport aircraft after a crash last year which killed 10 Servicemen. The plane was hit by ground fire which caused a fuel tank to explode. Relatives have questioned whether the safety foam might have saved them.
In March 2003 a member of the Royal Tank regiment was shot and killed by friendly fire. The resulting inquiry concluded that Sgt Roberts would have survived if he had not been forced to hand back enhanced combat body armour (ECBA) two days before the invasion because there was not enough to go round.
In May due to a shortfall in the number of troop transport helicopters, Defence Chiefs proposed to bring former Royal Navy anti-submarine 1970s Sea Kings out of storage for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. The maximum speed at its maximum height of the Sea King, the so called ‘hot and high performance’ is a mere 50 knots- woeful by modern standards.
Just four examples of expecting our troops to fight in very hostile conditions without giving them the tools to do the job. We are putting our brave servicemen’s lives at risk as a result.
Politicians would do well to remember the warning of the new Chief of the General Staff of our armed services last week. “Our troops are stretched to the limit”, said General Sir Richard Dannatt; “we need a national debate on the value of our Armed Forces, and what resources they should have.”


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