Mine clearing vehicle that could save lives of British troops delayed for two years (UK)
A new vehicle which would clear mines potentially saving the lives of British troops has been delayed by more than two years because of the "same old failings" in defence programmes, a watchdog report has warned.
The Terrier engineer vehicle was supposed to have been in service in September but a series of delays means that it will not be ready until late 2011.
It is one of 20 major projects examined by the National Audit Office over which the Ministry of Defence was accused of "lack of realism from the outset".
In developing the Terrier an unreliable steering problem that caused a four month delay in the £313 million project.
The armoured vehicle can clear minefields and make routes safe for following armour and is likely to have proved a significant asset in Afghanistan where dozens of soldiers have been killed by roadside bombs.
As a result of the hold-up the MoD has been forced to buy 10 off-the-shelf Buffalo route clearance vehicles as part of an urgent £96 million project.
The report accused defence chiefs of failing to get a grip on spiralling delays and costs of its biggest equipment projects.
In its annual examination the NAO found they were £205 million over budget and fallen a further eight years late leaving them more than 40 years late overall Edward Leigh, the Tory MP who chairs the Commons public accounts committee, said the "same old failings" were potentially leaving British troops vulnerable.
"This is about more than money. This kit will sooner or later be operated, perhaps in anger, by our men and women in the forces - and it is not good enough, to say the least, if it is late coming into service or does not do what it was originally supposed to," he said.
There were still shortcomings in project management and "an unjustified optimism about costs and timescales".
While equipment urgently needed for the frontline comes out of the Treasury reserve the defence procurement industry has been hindered for years if not decades by delays, cost overruns and a failure by the MoD to clearly set out its requirements. Important reforms were being driven through by Lord Drayson under his Defence Industrial Strategy but he resigned last year apparently in frustration at the Governments inability to institute his plans.
The MoD has still yet to publish its way forward on reform and the situation has not been helped by the appointment of Quentin Davies as procurement minister who was evasive when questioned by the Commons defence committee on Tuesday exasperating MPs from all sides.
The longest delay recorded this year was to the Terrier armoured combat engineer vehicle, which was pushed out by two-and-a-quarter years because test prototypes were delivered late and then failed reliability tests.
Costs overall were now expected to be £28 billion ' 12 per higher than originally budgeted, the NAO said.
It found that only one in four of the projects will achieve their "key performance objectives" on current forecasts.
The report said overall performance continued to be "varied", with five of the projects examined by the NAO showing significant cost or schedule problems in the past year. These were the Nimrod Mark 4, Terrier, Soothsayer electronic warfare system, Naval satellite system and the Meteor missile Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office, said: "Performance remains variable and, until the MoD and the defence industry improve their decision making processes and show sustained learning from previous projects, value for money will not be consistently delivered."
The Defence Secretary John Hutton announced last week a review on the progress on implementing reforms to be led by the businessman and journalist Bernard Gray.
In a statement Quentin Davies said the NAO report only examined 20 out of 350equipment projects.
"Our priority is current operations and getting the right kit to the troops as quickly as possible; in the last year we delivered equipment valued at £5.8Bn.
"We continuously respond and adapt to emerging threats, something the report acknowledges, procuring new equipment for urgent operational use.
"We always look to make improvements and build on the progress we have made."
Von: 17.12.2008, By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent, www.telegraph.co.uk