General Lord Dannatt, former head of the British Army, described the sale as “morally suspect.”
The news was branded “morally suspect” by General Lord Dannatt, former head of the British Army, and has led Lt Gen Jonathan Riley – once deputy command of coalition troops in Afghanistan – to predict that Britain would soon lose its traditional role as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe because of its lack of political will to engage in ground operations.
It comes after the MoD’s Defence Export Sales Authority signed a framework agreement with the controversial South African government agency Armscor to market the ‘pocket Army’ which, it claims, will “increase its brand awareness”.
The 30-page catalogue, which lists kit available for sale if buyers are found, includes 22 Puma helicopters – just returned from operational use in Afghanistan and only four years on from a £190m upgrade – and C-130 Hercules aircraft. Both have been the subject of intense lobbying by UK Special Forces commanders who want to keep them.
Other items include the Army’s tracked Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles (CVRT) even though their replacement, thought to be Ajax, has not been secured yet; Halmatic fast attack craft used by the Royal Marines, hundreds of Land Rovers including special machine gun-mounted editions adapted for desert operations, Husky tactical support vehicles and the Army’s latest MAN logistics trucks.
The catalogue – which one expert said “reads like a fire sale” – also boasts Britten-Norman Defender surveillance planes and Royal Navy Scimitars fast patrol boats, all of which could be used to secure UK territorial waters and help to combat illegal immigration.
Even more controversial is the proposed sale of thousands of Minimi machine guns – only introduced during the Afghanistan campaign – and the latest Sig Sauer pistols which the MoD describes as “suitable for crowd control”.
“Pumas and Hurricanes are still desperately needed by our armed Forces.”
In 1995 Pretoria-based Armscor was found by a South African independent review to have illegally diverted weapons bound for Lebanon to Yemen in contravention of a UN arms embargo.
In its framework agreement the MoD boasts: “DESA is proud to be promoting sales opportunities with DDS (a wing of Armscor) of combat proven UK military capabilities sharing knowledge and expertise in our fields.”
Last night some MoD insiders stressed the benefits of equipping African nations with UK-friendly equipment to help with later training, while others suggested the weapons would be used to combat the rising scourging Jihadism.
And they said all equipment would be subject to “the stringent Export Licence process as per any DESA sale.”
But these were dismissed as an effort to “dress up what is in reality a drive for cash on bargain basement terms,” by General Lord Dannatt, former head of the British Army.
“Trying to put a morally superior justification into something that is morally questionable just makes it worse, in my mind,” he said.
“The reduction in Army manpower and the switch of emphasis to a blue water navy, aircraft, space and cyberspace shows that the appetite to get involved on the ground and really help people is actually very limited.
“And if these weapons are going to Africa, they are going to the Continent that will host conflict in decades to come. Africa is desperately poor but it’s rich in resources at the same time. Sending weapons there on a bargain basement basis is very worrying and probably morally suspect.
“It’s all very depressing.”
Lt Gen Jonathan Riley, former deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, said: “Is this equipment going to help African nations fight the real threat of Jihadism, or will countries keep it closer to home to help suppress their own people? This is rather more probable.
Boris Johnson with soldiers of the new Ranger Regiment during a visit to mark Armed Forces Week
“What we see here is a complete lack of interest in defence and military engagement, which happily coincides with the MoD’ needing to recoup cash with kit it has been told to get rid of.
“If the Government was interested in defence, it would be putting these things into storage for care and maintenance. Once it’s gone, it’s gone – training goes and you lose a whole capability. But there is clearly no political appetite, so why bother?”
He added: “There is, by the Government’s own admission, a ten-year-gap during which the British Army will not be in the business of war-fighting. If Putin comes over the border, or North Korea, there’s very little we can do. Most of our tank fleet will be in mothballs, we won’t have an infantry fighting vehicle fleet because they’ve dumped the Warrior having spent £40bn on upgrades and areeven getting rid of our entire CVR fleet with further delays to replacement.
“Armed forces are part of nationhood and how other countries see you. If you are not credible, they will deal with you accordingly. This proposed sale will contribute to the increasing view among our enemies and allies that we are not fit for purpose any more.
“Sadly I predict it will only be a matter of time before Britain loses the post of deputy supreme allied commander Europe, probably to a French officer.”
Defence expert Robert Clarke, of the Henry Jackson Society Institute, added: “This alarming inventory reads like a fire sale.
“Pumas and Hurricanes are still desperately needed by our armed Forces. Pumas still carry Afghanistan dust – they only left the country on Tuesday.
ISAF headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan
“Only last year, a new forward presence role was announced for the first time for the Army. It is difficult to see how this can be achieved when vital airframes and ground vehicles are being put up for sale with no sign of their replacements.”
An MoD spokesman said: “There is currently no specific sale taking place, the Defence Equipment Sales Authority is currently advertising potential opportunities via ARMSCOR to the African market.
“DESA only markets and sells equipment surplus to requirements, generating revenue that can be reinvested to support new cutting-edge technology for our Armed Forces.”