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Armed Forces: Equipment

Volume 495: debated on Monday 29 June 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent steps his Department has taken to improve equipment for Army personnel. (282463)

In the past year, we have introduced a number of significant improvements to our equipment for Army personnel. The majority of the improvements relate to force protection including increasing the numbers of existing Electronic Countermeasure (ECM) equipment and an enhancement to the ECM capability.

Improvements to existing vehicles, either complete or under way, include enhanced mine blast protection for the Viking all-terrain vehicle, a series of modifications to enhance Snatch's mobility and protection, and modifications to the Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) (CVR(T)) to enable the vehicles to perform better in the harsh Afghan conditions.

We have also continued to acquire new vehicles to meet the evolving threat. New vehicles delivered in the last year, or in the process of being delivered, include Mastiff 2, Ridgback and Panther. In addition, we have placed contracts for a number of new vehicles which include the three tactical support vehicles (Coyote, Husky and Wolfhound), Jackal 2, and Warthog. We intend that the tactical support vehicles will replace unprotected vehicles such as the General Service Land Rover and the RB44 operating outside our protected camps.

Viking has now reached its limit to carry extra weight and protection and Warthog will replace Viking on operations.

There have also been recent improvements in the personal equipment issued to our armed forces. These include the purchase of Underslung Grenade Launchers, combat shotguns and the 60mm mortar and improved night vision devices. We have also introduced enhancements to the fit of Osprey body armour which have improved user manoeuvrability. Additionally, a system which allows troops to wear front and back Osprey plates without the soft armour jacket has just been introduced. This system is used by troops who require extra mobility or are operating in confined spaces.

To help counter the significant mine threat in Afghanistan, a system for searching and clearing of mines and improvised explosive devices from roads and predictable routes, Project Talisman, has been ordered. Talisman includes the Buffalo and Mastiff armoured vehicles, a small unmanned air vehicle and the high mobility engineer excavators. Also, additional Vallon hand held mine detectors have been purchased. The Vallon provides a significantly enhanced performance to the detector which it has replaced.

Finally, a range of logistics vehicles such as the support vehicle and the heavy equipment transporter have been modified to ‘Theatre Entry Standard’ with, among others, improvements to air conditioning, dust filtration, night vision and additional armour. Protected plant equipment such as wheeled tractors have been delivered to operations with a second tranche now on order.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent steps his Department has taken to improve equipment for Royal Air Force personnel. (282464)

In the past year, we have introduced a number of significant improvements to our equipment for Royal Air Force personnel.

During 2008, we enhanced our strategic air lift capability by taking delivery of two more C-17s, taking our total C-17 fleet to six aircraft.

We continue to improve our fast jet capabilities with significant enhancements to our Harrier and Tornado fleets. These improvements include our new Paveway IV Precision Guided Bomb, which entered service in December 2008, and which provides the RAF with a state of the art all-weather, day and night, precision bombing capability. The Dual Mode Seeker Brimstone also entered service in December 2008 providing increased target accuracy and reduced risk of collateral damage. We are making good progress on Typhoon too. On 1 July 2008, Typhoon was declared operational in the air to ground role, and on 21 October 2008, deliveries of our Tranche 2 Typhoon aircraft commenced.

We have also increased our surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities with the introduction of the Airborne Stand off Radar, which achieved its in-service date in November 2008.

On helicopters, we continue to deliver improvements to our fleet to ensure the safety, airworthiness and operational effectiveness of our platforms on operations. We continue to increase the number of helicopter flying hours available to our commanders in Afghanistan, which have gone up by 84 per cent. between November 2006 and April 2009 through the deployment of more aircraft and improvements in support and crewing arrangements. By the end of 2009, the Department intends to make the first of the eight Chinook Mk3 Reversion aircraft available for operations and will have deployed the RAF’s Merlin Mk3 force to Afghanistan, providing a significant increase to our front-line helicopter capability.

In the past year, there have been a number of improvements in the equipment provided to the RAF Regiment. The latest variant of the Snatch Land Rover, the Snatch Vixen which has improved mobility and protection is currently deployed on operations, as is the new Panther Command and Liaison vehicle. In addition to the new vehicles, there has also been recent improvement in dismounted close combat equipment including the supply of underslung grenade launchers, night vision devices, combat shotguns and the 60 mm mortar.