17 July 2003 | Robin Parker
Lean supply chains and poor tracking of stocks resulted in shortages of vital equipment for British troops in Iraq, the Ministry of Defence has admitted.
Boots, temporary accommodation, and refrigeration and air conditioning units were in short supply, according to the MoD's first report into the operations.
The admission contrasts with defence secretary Geoff Hoon's rejection of reports in March that troops were missing supplies.
It also goes against comments made to SM in January by Colonel Silas Suchanek, defence clothing integrated project team leader at the Defence Logistics Organisation, denying potential shortages.
Supplies were forecast to equip the 9,000 personnel that made up the Joint Rapid Reaction Force and the Spearhead Battalion, but more troops were ultimately deployed.
Problems occurred with getting the sizes of nuclear, biological and chemical protective suits.
The findings come as the UK Safety Group, a supplier of army boots, went into administration.
Suchanek said the MoD was taking measures to ensure continuity of supply. He added that despite some shortages, buyers coped well with short order times in Iraq.
He said: "It's a matter of balancing holding stock for known operational requirements and relying on the industrial supply base to cope when exceptional circumstances come up, and in this case purchases were made largely in time."
According to the report, Operations in Iraq 2003: First Reflections, equipment that created earlier problems, such as the SA80 A2 rifle, performed well.
A US stock-tracking system was integrated into the UK's supply chain in three months. But running to a limited capacity, it failed to keep up with the rate of consumption of critical spares, delaying reorders.
The MoD has pledged to examine the need for a robust tracking system for supply chains in such environments.
David Moore, director of defence logistics management at Cranfield University, said the MoD had to perform the tricky balancing act of ridding waste from the supply chain and keeping complex distribution channels under control.
"It takes an operational environment like Iraq to bring these management issues to the public's attention, particularly in last-minute operations," he said