The Duke of York has attacked the “hopeless” Ministry of Defence for failing to order armoured vehicles that could save soldiers’ lives.
He accused defence chiefs of sitting on their “fat backsides” and stalling on bringing in British-built Rangers, which are said to have three times the blast resistance of troop carriers currently in use.
His comments are likely to embarrass David Cameron, who has insisted that defence cuts will not compromise the safety of those serving in Afghanistan.
They also amounted to a breach of protocol, which dictates that members of the Royal family should avoid expressing political views.
The Duke was applauded by relatives of fallen soldiers.
Anthony Philippson, whose son, Captain Jim Philippson was killed in Afghanistan in 2006, said: “I think Prince Andrew will have the support of forces families for being brave enough to speak out.”
The Duke’s remarks were made at the factory that manufactures the £1million Ranger. He was visiting in his capacity as an ambassador for British trade and industry.
Last year the Ministry of Defence said it had no immediate plans to order Rangers, but had asked for independent tests to establish the vehicle’s resistance to roadside bombs of the type used by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Duke told executives at Universal Engineering in Weymouth, Dorset: “Why do they have to do blast tests? It’s just increasing the cost. It just seems that because it takes time to get these things done – I would say to you that regrettably they will not get off their fat backsides. The MoD are completely hopeless at these kind of things.”
The 50-year-old Duke, a former Royal Navy helicopter pilot and colonel-in-chief of five Army regiments, has regularly visited Afghanistan to see the challenges faced by British service personnel.
It is understood that he was addressing members of the company’s board, and was unaware that a local journalist had been invited to witness the meeting.
The issue of armoured vehicles has been a running sore for ministers since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Dozens of soldiers have been killed by roadside bombs while travelling in poorly-protected vehicles, including at least 37 who have died in the notorious Snatch Land Rovers, originally designed for use in Northern Ireland.
Commander John Muxworthy, of the UK National Defence Association, which campaigns for better defence funding, said the Duke was wrong to single out the MoD. He said: “Most of the time it’s government interference, changing of dates and changes of mind that are to blame for wasting money and delaying things.”
Universal Engineering said it could have Rangers in Afghanistan within six months of an order being placed. The vehicle has a unique “floating” crew capsule suspended above the V-shaped hull that gives it superb protection from roadside bombs. In tests, its armour plating withstood the impact from explosives equivalent to double the average amount in a Taliban bomb.
An MoD spokesman said it had not ruled out ordering Rangers.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said the Duke’s remarks were made in a private meeting and declined to comment further.
The issue of members of the Royal family intervening in political life was brought to the fore last year, when the Prince of Wales was accused of breaking protocol by meddling in planning decisions after writing to the Qatari royal family urging it to reconsider a modernist design for flats at Chelsea Barracks in London. After the Qataris withdrew the scheme, the Prince was blamed for its failure in an £81 million court case brought by some of the developers.
Contributor: Telegraph.co.uk Media
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