Britain may no longer be a military superpower, but it
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still packs a formidable punch. From troops and warships deployed to Sierra Leone, to Challenger battle tanks in Kosovo, British servicemen are on the global frontline.
The Moll spreads its personnel far and wide, but that's just part of the story: the UK is the world's second largest armaments exporter. As Tim Maughan discovers, this warlike trade makes plenty of work for hauliers...
HMS Nottingham is one of the Royal Navy's 11 Type 42 destroyers. She is 125m long, with a displacement of 3,560 tonnes. A crew of 250 sailors keeps her up and running. Nottingham packs an impressive array of firepower, from torpedoes and anti-aircraft missiles, to chain guns, a 4.5in gun intended primarily for land targets, and a Lynx helicopter which operates from a hangar at the aft of the ship. Impressive stuff.
Royal Navy aircraft carriers depend on the Type 42 for their
defence against air attack. And at the other end of the chain, warships like the Nottingham themselves depend upon onshore logistical support. Enter road haulage and, more specifically, the Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO).
The transport organisation behind the UK's armed forces is complex, but can be simplified thus: the DLO, with a workforce of 43,000(70% of which is civilian), is charged with ensuring supplies from food to missiles get to their destinations. Logistics is taken seriously at the MoD: the DLO has a £4.6bn budget, which represents 20% of the total defence budget. As with any organisation, effiiency is important. The DLO plans o reduce output costs by 20% by !005, which will lead to greater nvolvement of the private sector.
Not surprisingly, the mighty DLO s split into a variety of segments. me of these is the Defence Freight listribution Group (OFDG), based it Portsmouth Naval Base.
Traditionally, logistical support as separate for each of the hree services, but not any more. 'he three single service logistics iperations were combined under he DLO banner; this integration was completed in April 2000.
The DFDG itself was up and running by October 1999, and it trunks everything from tap washers to ammunition for ships like IIMS Nottingham.
The combined supply operation for the three services operates from four chief bases: Longtown, Bicester, Stafford and Bennington. These bases are storage facilities. From these sites consignments are distributed across the UK to one of 51 supply depots and military bases. A load might be a Harrier jump jet engine for deliv
ery to RAF Cottesmore, or perhaps a tank engine component bound for Catterick.
The DM runs 41 Seddon Atkinson and Volvo tractive units, all running at 38 tonnes. Total vehicle accountability is what it's all about, according to DFDG future developments manager, Squadron Leader Paul Jones: "Before the DFDG was formed we would have trucks running on the motorways, each carrying loads for a different service. But in the
first year we reduced the total mileage of the fleet from 5.06m miles to 4.3 million miles."
There are 70 designated routes linking the 55 depots and bases. "Every unit (depot or base) knows when it will get its stores," says operations manager Henry Price. "And because we have a supply chain we always have a full load."
The DFDG is a tightly run ship, which means that during busy periods the expertise of the private sector is called upon.
DFDG head Steve Samuels says: 'Every day, on an ad hoc basis, civilian hauliers are being asked to tender for work. About 12 private contractors' trucks are on the roads every day in addition to our own fleet" As Jones explains, the private sector offers flexibility: "We don't want to be running a 38-tanner to collect a fin for a fighter when it could be in the back of a haulier's smaller vehicle. When we need to move something from A to B we ask the haulage company for a quote, then we get quotes from two more hauliers."
Price adds: "Yes, we always obtain three quotations, then one haulier gets the business. A major bonus of working for the MoD is that payment is prompt; the MOD always pays within 28 days." No need to harass this customer for your cash, then.
The opportunities for the haulier, although limited, are obviously there at the DFDG, and the role of the commercial operator is set to increase.
Samuels says: "We use our own fleet efficiently, but there is scope for the haulier. Because the MoD's transport system is being rationalised the DLO wants to scrutinise the whole supply chain."
in the case of the DFDG that is likely to mean greater opportunities for hauliers over the next few years—and they are likely to be asked to provide transport for core work, rather than only being brought in during busy periods. Importantly, operators working for the MoD must be prepared to field their equipment at a moment's notice.
The staff at Kings Heavy Haulage (Bristol) know all about mobilising their vehicles for Britain's military machine. About 20% of the firm's work is with the MoD and the firm runs an impressive heavy haulage fleet comprising 20 tractive units and 35 low-loaders.
"The majority of our MoD work is with the Army," says sales director Paul Freeman.
"We carry armoured vehicles ranging from Warrior armoured combat vehicles to Challenger main battle tanks. The company has been moving for the British Army for years," he adds proudly.
The lion's share of this work involves shifting armoured vehicles from the manufacturers— primarily Vickers' plants in Newcastle and Leeds—to British Army bases In the south-west of England. Freeman says: "We've got at least four vehicles working for the MoD every single day and this usually Includes low-loaders. And we can be very busy; recently we transported 36 Challenger battle tanks from Ashchurch to Marchwood Military Port in one week."
Punctuality is vital when you're transporting for the armed forces. Three ships set sail from Marchwood to Germany every week, loaded with heavy armour and equipment for the British Army. Freeman can't afford his trucks to be late for a customer like the MoD: "The army's soldiers are charged if they are late, so for us it is important to been time. So, if the order is for 08:00hrs, we have to be there at 07:55hrs."
Britain may no longer rule the waves, but it is still has a pow( projection that only a handful countries enjoy. That means firn like Kings must be prepared 1 travel. Freeman recalls: "Once v had to go to Plymouth with a lov loader to collect components for Royal Navy frigate which wi stranded in Majorca. Then we Fri to drive through France and Spa and catch a ferry to the island.
"I have done the same thing Norway and Sweden, but ti reirdest thing I did was drive a ruck and container to Eastern urope. The British Army was raining soldiers over there, so for whole month we had to keep the ontainer there to supply the sellers with equipment"
Kings has to rely on the normal olice escorts when transporting eavy and abnormal loads, but ten the guns start firing in a iajor conflict these formalities re waived. During the Gulf War, )r example, Freeman and his col!agues hauled Challenger tanks ,om Newcastle to Marchwood. It ,as an effortless drive; the army eeded its armour so the comlexities of arranging police scorts were cast aside.
iven the sensitive nature of milliry loads, security is crucial. 'eeman says: "All firms carrying rmoured loads for the MoD must ave a Section 5 licence which leans they have had security learance, and this can take a few ionths to arrange."
Another prerequisite is a shotun licence. The theory is this: auliers who shift battle tanks hould, at the very least, have the Daimon sense to look after a hotgun. So operators considerig moving into defence work muld be prepared to make a trip ) their local police stations to be vetted. Additionally, the MoD spends £2,000 examining the background of every driver. No chances are taken: if only one employee is found to have a questionable history you can forget prestigious MoD work.
On the day CM visits Kings we see two of the firm's low-loaders carrying 62-tonne Challenger 1 tanks. The proportions are enormous: each one is 3.5m wide and the hull is 9.8m long—with the 120mm gun forward, the overall length is 11.5m. These tanks are on their way to Marchwood Military Port, where they will be shipped to the Jordanian Army (see panel for details of the export business).
In January the Fasttrax Consortium won a 1300m contract to provide tank transporters for the British ArmyFasttrax is part of the "green fleet" which is directly controlled by the military.
Kings' role is different: the firm transports for the MoD as and when needed.
The flexibility afforded by hauliers like Kings is valuable to Britain's military. The Army has a lot of tracked armoured vehicles: 386 Challenger 2s, 500 Warriors, 192 Scimitars, 1,600 FV432 armoured personnel carriers, 179 AS90 self-propelled guns and 63 mobile rocket launchers. Then there is the mass of field guns.
To carry this machinery you need the right gear. "If you are carrying a Challenger you need the right truck and trailer— and you need 1200,000 to buy this, says Freeman.
For the haulier willing to invest money, and the right service, the benefits of working for the MoD are abundantly clear. Freeman says: "Late payment is not a problem when working for the MoD—it is certainly our best account. But things must be done 100% right every time. Everything we do for them is totally professional—it is like providing a transport silver service."