British army weaknesses exposed
LONDON, England -- A major audit of essential British Army equipment has found it is not fit for duty and unable to stand up to the rigours of desert warfare.
Experts say the report by the UK's National Audit Office, released on Thursday, could have major implications for the UK's role in the event of possible military action against Iraq.
It found worrying concerns with a wide range of military equipment, from the main Challenger 2 battle tank, which became choked by sand, to the boots on the troops' feet, which fell apart or melted in the extreme heat.
The report was compiled during last year's British Army exercises in Oman, the largest British military deployment since the 1991 Gulf War.
Auditors found that helicopters, self-propelled guns and heavy lifting vehicles all struggled in the heat and dust.
There was also problems with the ageing Clansman radio system which is judged to be "incapable" of operating in combat conditions.
A long-awaited replacement for the Clansman -- the new Bowman system -- will not be available for at least two years.
Among the other problems identified, the plastic air filters on the mobile AS90 self-propelled guns melted in the heat, causing two guns to be withdrawn from the exercise.
Engineers rigged up makeshift aluminium heat shields but they only worked when the guns were stationary, and movements had to be restricted to night time. In one incident, a gun caught fire.
The availability of the helicopter fleet was "low" with, on average, just 55 percent of the aircraft serviceable at any one time.
Ground crews found that rotor blades on the Lynx helicopter, which would normally last for 500 hours flying time in European conditions needed replacing after just 27 hours.
But the most severe problems were with the Challenger 2 tanks which would be expected to spearhead any armoured assault by British ground forces.
Crews quickly found that the fine dust thrown up by the desert clogged up the tanks' air filters so that they ground to a halt after just four hours service.
Two squadrons had to be withdrawn and only three squadrons were able to take part in the final live firing exercise.
The Oman exercise involved some British 22,500 personnel, 6,500 vehicles and trailers, 49 fixed wing aircraft, 44 helicopters and 21 naval vessels.
It took three years to plan and is estimated to have cost £83 million ($130 million). At one stage UK Prime Minister Tony Blair visited the area and inspected some of the exercises.
The UK's Ministry of Defence said the exercise had been a success in demonstrating the joint rapid reaction force concept, and that overall it was "very pleased" with the way both people and equipment had performed.
"This was the first time that many new items of equipment had been tested in the desert under near operational conditions," the MoD said in a statement.
"The key point of major exercises is that they allow us to identify the challenges our forces might face when actually operating in such testing conditions.
"We have made comprehensive arrangements for identifying lessons and, where necessary, we will make improvements to our equipment and procedures."
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