My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (John Hutton) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The provision of protected vehicles to our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has attracted considerable interest amongst honourable Members and the British public. I therefore felt it would be helpful to set out, following the Prime Minister’s announcements and within the constraints of operational security, the current position on protected mobility, and our future intentions. This Statement will touch on both Operations TELIC and HERRICK, but will mostly focus on Afghanistan.
We have already achieved a great deal in improving the protected mobility options available to commanders on operations. Mastiff is unquestionably a success story. For its role, Mastiff is delivering the very highest levels of protection available anywhere in the world. Where it can be used, and its size and weight mean that it has its limitations, it is clearly the vehicle of choice. That is why the Prime Minister announced a further order of these vehicles last year. The deliveries of Mastiff tranche two, which will begin in a month’s time, will bring the Mastiff fleet we have available to support operations to over 280.
It is not only through Mastiff that we are delivering a world-class protected-vehicle capability; we are also delivering Ridgback. Using the smaller Cougar 4x4 chassis, and innovative, cutting-edge UK armour technologies, we will be able to deliver protection levels close to that of Mastiff in a package that is able to better access urban areas, increasing the survivability of troops in these roles. We have also recently procured 30 base Cougar vehicles, a mixture of 4x4 and 6x6, to augment our training fleet. By taking this action, we will ensure delivery of the right numbers of both vehicles into theatre as soon as is practicable.
In recent months, the nature of threat against our troops on the ground in Afghanistan has evolved significantly. It is vital that we respond urgently to these new threats to ensure that we continue to provide the best possible protection to our people. But delivering better protection for our troops is not just about heavy vehicles such as Mastiff and Ridgback. In the hierarchy of force protection one should first seek not to be detected, if detected then seek not to be hit, and if hit not to be destroyed. On the more predictable and vulnerable operations we focus, rightly, on the latter part of that hierarchy, however for many of our roles we need to take a different approach, balancing the requirements of protection and agility.
Viking, Land Rover WMIK (weapon mount installation kit) and Jackal are all agile vehicles with high levels of off-road mobility which enable us to get off tracks and trails and to be unpredictable. The Land Rover WMIK and Jackal both allow us to operate in open desert and mountainous terrain, taking the fight to the enemy away from ground of their choosing. Jackal in particular is proving a significant success, delivering excellent protection, mobility, range and firepower. It is for this reason that we are procuring over 100 additional Jackal, costing around £75 million, to augment our current fleet, bringing the total to over 300.
Viking has provided an excellent capability in Afghanistan, giving us unparalleled access to areas around the Helmand River. But, although we are providing some further enhancements to its protection, we have reached the limit of its ability to carry extra weight and protection. This is why we intend to replace Viking in Afghanistan with an alternative, better protected, high-mobility vehicle, to be known as Warthog; work is under way to identify the right vehicle to fulfil this role. We will procure over 100 new vehicles with deliveries starting at the end of next year.
We are also planning to modify Panther with a few theatre-specific alterations in order to field it to Afghanistan. Bought through the defence equipment programme as a command and liaison vehicle for the conventional battlefield, Panther offers excellent mobility and impressive levels of protection for its size. With a full communications capability, it will offer a capable addition to the options available in certain roles.
Inevitably any statement on protected mobility must address the role of Snatch Land Rover, a vehicle which has received considerable criticism. First, to be absolutely clear, I can inform the House that—in addition to the regular reviews that are conducted into protected mobility—senior operational commanders were asked to specifically consider the requirement for Snatch Land Rover and its importance to operations. The response was clear: commanders need a vehicle of the size, weight and profile of Snatch Land Rover, capable of transporting men, to fulfil their tasks in theatre. Further, the availability of such a vehicle is considered mission critical.
This does not mean that no action can be taken on Snatch. We have set in train a programme to apply the lessons we have learned from the development of Mastiff and Ridgback to Snatch. We have modified Snatch’s running gear, chassis, engine, and other automotive components to give the vehicle more power and the ability to carry a greater load. The extra power and payload allow us to carry out a series of modifications, details of which honourable Members will understand I am unable to share, to enhance its mobility and protection. This effectively generates a new variant, especially configured for Afghanistan, the Snatch Vixen. We have already fielded a small number of these vehicles, and we will be substantially increasing the size of the fleet over the coming year.
We cannot make Snatch invulnerable; any vehicle can be overmatched if faced with an overwhelming attack. But these modifications mean that Snatch Vixen will offer the highest levels of protection for its size and weight class.
The need to protect our people to the highest possible standards does not stop with the patrol and fighting vehicles. We need to look closely at the vehicles which are providing the integral logistic and engineering support in this hostile environment. We have already announced the fielding of the newly procured support vehicle (SV) to Afghanistan and Iraq replacing our existing fleet of 4, 8 and 14-tonne cargo vehicles with a modern and better-protected logistic vehicle. We have also used a number of SV chassis to develop a new enhanced palletised load system (EPLS) which is replacing the deployed DROPS capability.
But we believe there is still more we can do. In Afghanistan we have a number of units who are sometimes required to operate outside the wire who are equipped with light utility ‘B’ Vehicles such as the Pinzgauer 4x4 and the General Service Land Rover. In the context of the evolving threat, we have therefore decided to procure over 400 new light, medium and heavy protected utility vehicles, to be known respectively as Coyote, Husky and Wolfhound. The tactical support vehicles (TSV), delivering from June 2009, will ensure that all our troops are operating in an appropriately protected vehicle.
Training plays a crucial part in the success of our troops in theatre. The protected mobility package includes sufficient numbers of each of the vehicles to ensure that all troops are fully trained; vehicles will not be deployed to theatre until the appropriate levels of training have been conducted.
Funding of £500 million has been allocated from the reserve towards this protected mobility package, which is expected to cost over £600 million in total. Defence will fund a part of the package in acknowledgement of the longer-term benefit to core defence capability these vehicles offer beyond our current commitments.
Vehicles, of course, are only part of the answer; honourable Members are well aware of the crucial role played by tactics, techniques and procedures in protecting our troops from harm. Equally, our world-leading electronic countermeasures provide an extra, crucial, layer of force protection. We will also investigate new ways of approaching force protection where we can; this is why we are working on the development of a route proving and clearing capability, known as TALISMAN. This capability, which has been allocated £96 million from the reserve, and uses specialist vehicles such as the Buffalo mine-protected vehicle, aims to deliver a system which allows us to mitigate the risks faced by our forces in a proactive way by applying technology to the challenge of transiting routes and dealing with high-risk areas.
We owe a great debt to the men and women of the Armed Forces who operate in hostile environments, risking their lives to secure the freedom that has been hard won for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and to ensure that international terrorism, which threatens us all, far beyond those two countries, is not allowed to take hold. It is beholden on us to ensure that they receive the very best support and the very best equipment for the roles they are undertaking. In this Statement today, I have outlined a road map which will deliver nearly 700 new vehicles at a cost of over £700 million, and enable us to remove some 400 lesser protected vehicles from operations. I firmly believe that this plan, once implemented, will give our Armed Forces the protection and mobility they need and deserve to do their jobs as safely and effectively as modern technology can provide.