THE BLOG

The Mastiff Isn't Unsafe - What Are the Real Question That the Media Should Be Asking?

02/05/2013 17:34 BST | Updated 02/07/2013 10:12 BST
PA

The media loves a good story. It's what it exists for. Even better if that story is about something that has never happened before. If it's new news, then there is plenty of opportunity to fill the endless hours of rolling news with speculation and talking heads. If you are able to chuck in some computer graphics with the possibility of an explosion, then all the better.

And the news out of Afghanistan that a Mastiff armoured car - the main method of transporting troops around on the ground - has been 'compromised' by an Improvised Explosive Device ('the deadly IED') roadside bomb, gives the media plenty of opportunity to wheel expert after expert in to discuss 'what this means for British forces' now.

One particular correspondent, the BBC's Caroline Wyatt, has been repeatedly on the broadcasts offering her opinion about the impact that this news will have. Apparently confidence will have been shattered in the Mastiff. Soldiers will be worried about moving about. Other shows have joined in too. BBC Breakfast said this morning that the Mastiff was once the safest form of transport; now no longer.

But let's be clear on something here. The Mastiff is STILL the safest form of transport. The news should not be about the failure of the Mastiff to protect the troops travelling inside, but more about the fact that the insurgents had built a massive bomb capable of beating the armour of a Mastiff.

I have been in a Mastiff. I have sat in the back and travelled about from one place to another in Afghanistan. Although they look massive great huge things on the outside, and they are - 25 tons of armour and protection - inside they are quite small and fairly uncomfortable. Wearing your body armour and helmet you strap into a folding seat and put on a full body harness to keep you held down. You jostle shoulders with the guy sitting next to you. Your legs and knees interspace the guy sitting opposite you.

You know that there is a reason for all the safety. The enemy want to kill you by using as big a bomb as possible to cause an impact. And a Mastiff can be blown into the air by a big bomb, and there will be injuries inside as a result of the blast and the movement. And they have been. Vehicles have been rolled by explosions and thrown by blasts in the past. The design of the truck is such that these occurrences are minimised (the shape of the hull, the seats, the straps, etc) but the fact is that in a war, you can never build something that the enemy won't try and counter.

Land Rovers were once the main form of transport in Afghanistan. But too many people were injured in them so we built bigger and bigger vehicles and of course to counter them, the enemy built bigger and bigger bombs.

And now they have built a bomb big enough to compromise a Mastiff. This doesn't mean anything about the Mastiff. They are just as much at risk as they were before. It doesn't mean that British troops will be any more at risk when they get into a Mastiff than they were before. It just means that the war has moved on and that another new phase has been entered. Just as we had new phases before, we have a new phase now. It's move and counter, move and counter. Like a game of chess, one side moves, the other responds...

What doesn't help the situation, though, is the reporting of it all. Soldiers are not really allowed to speak freely, and news correspondents love to put words into their mouths. And they, as all media do, love to publish scare stories. For goodness sake, where would the Daily Mail be without a scare story? But to say something like "the Mastiff is no longer safe" is a massive and incorrect jump. It's as safe as we can get at the moment. Our tactics will change to counter this new event. Eventually our equipment will change to counter this. But as soldiers always know, in a war-zone there is nowhere and nothing that is completely safe. Injuries and deaths will happen, because it is just that - a war zone. And we are facing a clever, adaptable and capable enemy.

One that is clever enough to realise they needed to change, adaptable enough to be able to develop and change equipment and tactics and capable enough to get hold of bigger and more devastating explosives and technology to put them together.

The news media would be better off looking at these three questions, rather than concentrating on why one other thing - the Mastiff - failed to cope with what seems to have been a massive change, by the enemy, in techniques, tactics and equipment.