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Coming live to a warzone near you: Army Truck Driver for Xbox!

Shh, ignore senior Brit officers saying armed forces on brink of collapse

As recently retired senior officers told UK Parliament that the armed forces are at risk of "institutional failure", the Ministry of Defence told the world's press that soldiers are playing with Xbox controllers.

General Sir Richard Barrons, Admiral Sir George Zambellas and Air Marshal Sir Barry North all gave evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee yesterday, tearing into the state of the three services.

The government's defence funding policy – fling tens of billions at big equipment projects and let the rest of the services scrap it out for the remaining shekels – drew pointed criticism from General Barrons, who retired 18 months ago as Commander, Joint Forces Command, which is the military HQ in charge of the deployable bits of the armed forces.

Thanks to this starvation-level free-for-all approach to budgeting, warned Barrons, "you end up with risk of a ridiculous, zero-sum discussion both within the service – the nonsense of culling marines to buy more sailors – and between the services, which is why you end up generally with a current navy structurally underfunded, air force that is holding together with a bunch of very good equipment but at the edge of their engineering and support capacity, and an army that, broadly speaking, is 20 years out of date".

At the same time as this was being revealed to MPs, the MoD press office thought it a good idea to send out a press release titled "XBOX CONTROLLERS, HOVERBIKES AND ROBOTIC TRUCKS TRIALLED BY BRITISH AND AMERICAN ARMIES" [sic], the thrust of which was that military vehicles had been fitted with remote control gear.

An "all-terrain 4x4 vehicle" was "controlled by an Xbox-style controller", we were told. Specifically: "The 4x4 vehicle tested was a tele-operated Polaris MRZR, fitted with advanced sensors, cameras and GPS, and operated by a joint UK-US trials team. Using an adapted Xbox game console controller, Corporal Mortimer and Lance Corporal Thorne remotely 'drove' the 4x4 around the area to simulate an off-road task."

Doubtless the two NCOs were delighted to be flown out to the US for a task that your average 12-year-old practises daily.

The exercise, which took place in Michigan, USA, is part of a wider British military effort to introduce autonomous and remote-controlled vehicles into battlefield resupply efforts, freeing up human soldiers to bring death and destruction to Her Majesty's enemies of the day.

Meanwhile, Admiral Zambellas – formerly the First Sea Lord, professional head of the Royal Navy – told Parliament that Britain's ability to detect Russian submarines was now "inadequate", while General Barrons added that Britain would be unable to fend off an attack of the type Russia used to destroy two Ukrainian mechanised infantry battalions during Russia's invasion of the Crimea.

In that attack, said the general, Russian artillerymen used drones to observe the Ukrainians' movements before unleashing a full barrage, including thermobaric warheads that destroyed both formations, reportedly within three minutes of the first round landing.

Fighting off such an attack needs two things: anti-drone weapons and precision, fast-responding friendly artillery capable of destroying the enemy battery. British heavy artillery, like its heavy Challenger 2 tanks, has been largely neglected while costs for new armoured vehicles spiral out of control.

As for anti-drone weapons, the armed forces struggles to operate its current surveillance drones, never mind finding ways of shooting down small and medium-sized UAVs without expending hugely expensive munitions designed for taking down supersonic fighter-bombers instead of inexpensive remote-controlled quadcopters. ®


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