Tuesday, 21 July 2009

MoD chiefs 'blew £150m on wrong trucks' for

By Jason Lewis and William Lowther
Last updated at 8:15 AM on 12th July 2009

The vehicle chosen by the Ministry of Defence to replace the controversial Snatch Land Rover - in which 37 British soldiers have been killed by roadside bombs in and Afghanistan - was rejected by the U.S. Army after it allegedly failed explosive 'survivability' tests.

The U.S. tests - to determine whether troops inside would survive if the vehicle were hit by a roadside bomb - were carried out just weeks before the ordered 262 of the all-terrain vehicles for use in Afghanistan.

Christened the Husky by the British military, the vehicle is due to take over much of the work of the lightly armoured Snatch Land Rover, which has been widely criticised as giving insufficient protection to soldiers.

Enlarge Husky graphic

Husky graphic

The £600,000 Husky will be used by patrols in Helmand province. But the has now ordered another armoured off-roader, the Oshkosh M-ATV, which has a V-shaped hull designed to deflect explosions - and costs only £300,000, half as much as the Husky. The cost difference is partly due to the U.S. military buying 2,000 vehicles.

Senior Opposition MPs have now questioned why the Ministry of Defence was buying equipment rejected by our closest allies.

Former Army officer Patrick Mercer, chairman of the Commons sub-committee on counter-terrorism, said: 'If this vehicle is not good enough for the Americans, why should it be good enough for our men?

'The Husky is meant to be the solution to our troops dying in roadside bomb attacks. But if it is not good enough, then it does not make sense to persist with trying to acquire it. Surely the MoD can see that if American trials have found it wanting, then ours should as well.'

The Husky, which can carry a crew of four, is built to navigate rough terrain while 'offering added protection from ballistics fire, mines and roadside bombs'. It is due to be deployed in Afghanistan before the end of the year.

Details of its armour and other defensive systems are secret, but it is 'similar' to the vehicle that was sent to the U.S. Army testing grounds last February as part of the competition for a £600million Pentagon contract for an all-terrain vehicle for its troops in Afghanistan.

Both the test vehicle and the version ordered by the MoD are based on Navistar's International MXT, the largest production pick-up truck, which was originally designed for the American commercial market.

Immediately after the explosives tests, the vehicle's manufacturer, Illinois-based Navistar Defense, was told it was out of the running for the U.S. contract. Both the Pentagon and Navistar refuse to say why the vehicle - described as 'the Husky's cousin' - was ruled out. But it seems clear that it had failed the tests.

The decision was followed by a huge behind-the-scenes row between Navistar and the Pentagon over what was meant by a 'hull breach'.

The U.S. Department of Defence was forced to define a 'hull breach' in the vehicle's contract as 'any design or material failure that allows lethal mechanisms, such as blast overpressure, smoke, secondary debris, fragments, or fire to enter the crew volume'. In other words, any failure of the vehicle that could lead to the soldiers inside being killed or maimed by a roadside bomb.

Despite the row, Britain went ahead and signed a £150million contract to replace the Snatch Land Rover with a vehicle similar to the one tested and rejected by the Americans.

The MoD describes the Husky as 'an excellent piece of kit', adding: 'Our personnel are very excited about getting it in theatre.'

A spokeswoman for the MoD claimed the Husky was different from the vehicle at the centre of the 'hull breach' row.

She said: 'We strongly reject the suggestion that the vehicle [tested by the Americans] and the Husky purchased by the MoD are the same vehicle. They are not. We are adamant that the protection issues you raise [with the Americans] cannot be read across to Husky. They are very different vehicles and Husky has passed our strict protection tests.'

Richard North, defence expert and author of The Ministry Of Defeat, a critique of the MoD's decisions in Iraq, said the vehicle tested by the Americans and the Husky were identical 'except for a few bolt-ons'.

'To call it a different vehicle is weasel words,' he said. 'Its core protective cell is the same. The Oshkosh, which has been selected by the Americans, is higher off the ground, is a heavier vehicle and has a deep, V-shaped hull, which is critical. The angle of the V is what gives protection from explosives.

'The Husky has an inclined plate on the edge of the crew compartment, but basically the hull is flat.

'It is this shape that is crucial. You can't stop an explosion - you have to try to deflect it. We are paying £600,000 for each Husky, while the Americans are paying £300,000 for the better vehicle. The question is: Why?'

Before the U.S. explosives tests last February, Navistar had confirmed it was 'fielding a similar vehicle' to the Husky.

A Navistar statement at the time said: 'While the company competes to provide the U.S. military with vehicles specially designed for Afghanistan, Navistar is fielding a similar vehicle with the for the same mission purpose in Afghanistan. As part of the United Kingdom's Tactical Support Vehicle program, Navistar's vehicle will be called the Husky.'

Last night, a Navistar spokeswoman said: 'The vehicle [tested by the U.S. Army] and the Husky share the same platform or chassis, and that is why the company calls the two vehicles cousins and says they are similar.

'Since February, a lot of changes have taken place and the Husky is now a brand new vehicle. From the platform up, it is completely different.

'The survivability solutions built into the Husky are specially designed. The British Ministry of Defence has asked U.S. not to reveal details.'

She added that the company had never commented on the U.S. testing of its vehicle and 'will not do so now'.

The revelation comes as families of troops killed in Snatch Land Rovers, which were designed for patrolling the streets of , are demanding an inquiry into the use of the vehicle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last week, a High Court judge granted them a judicial review of the Government's refusal to hold a public inquiry.