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British Forces Told to Prepare for War

The Government put Britain’s Armed Forces on to a war footing yesterday, telling troops, reservists and munitions manufacturers to get ready for conflict in Iraq.
British Forces Told to Prepare for War
by Michael Evans

THE Government put Britain’s Armed Forces on to a war footing yesterday, telling troops, reservists and munitions manufacturers to get ready for conflict in Iraq.

With the United Nations Security Council preparing to discuss President Saddam Hussein’s 12,000-page weapons declaration tomorrow, the Ministry of Defense finally switched from contingency planning to deployment.

Officials said that units from all three Services had had their “notice to move” reduced, alerting them for the first time that they could be deployed to the Gulf within weeks. They also disclosed that the MoD was starting to charter commercial shipping to transport heavy equipment, such as tanks, to the Gulf.

Thousands of reservists, mainly in the medical field, have been approached to make sure that they will be available for call-up if and when required. Mod officials said that it was too early to order an official mobilization, but first steps were being taken to tell reservists and their civilian employers that they might be needed to serve their country in uniform next year. Between 6,000 and 10,000 reservists are expected to be called up under the Reserve Forces Act, filling gaps in medical units, as well as in the areas of intelligence, signals and logistics.

In a fourth telling development, the officials said that the defense industry was being asked to gear up to produce stockpiles of precision-guided missiles, other types of munitions, spare parts and secure communications.

The officials said that defense companies working on new projects would also be asked to accelerate their development work to try to get the equipment into service in time for a war with Iraq.

One of the key new weapons under development, and already behind schedule, is a cruise missile for the RAF called Storm Shadow. This weapon system, to be fitted to Tornado GR4s, will have a range of about 250 miles, enabling RAF pilots to release their weapons well away from Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles.

The officials said that there were also plans to purchase secure radio systems, after the debacle in the Kosovo campaign in 1999, when aging Clansmen radios were condemned by Service personnel. Equipment for field hospitals is also high on the Mod’s list.

Defense sources said that it was likely that the first deployments would begin by the end of next month. The Mod did not identify the units earmarked for possible war, although the units to be given shorter notice to move are understood to be what officials call “enablers” — logistics, engineering, communications and transport outfits that would be the first to deploy to Kuwait to set up the infrastructure for the main body of troops.

The principle land force envisaged by Mod planners for a war with Iraq would be based around 7 Armored Brigade, known as the Desert Rats, and 4 Armored Brigade. Based in Germany and part of 1st (UK) Armored Division, both are already classed as high-readiness troops on 30 days’ notice to move. Lead elements, consisting of an armored battle group, are on ten days’ notice. Their alert status does not have to be changed because they are already training hard for war.

The defense officials hinted that there was frustration over planning for war because the Americans had not revealed what scale of campaign they had in mind. One official said that, without such detail, the only course was to plan for a large-scale commitment that could then be cut back.

The Mod was reluctant to give too much information about deployment plans because it might give away details to “the enemy”. This is how Iraq is now defined.



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