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Ministry of Defence's 'disastrous' decision over Chinooks

Michael Evans - The Times - 25 August 2009

There are only 12 or 13 British Chinooks operating in Helmand province, where most of Britain's 9,000 troops are based. Last week one had to be destroyed after it was downed by the Taleban

The shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan can be traced to a “disastrous” Ministry of Defence decision to try to economise by designing its own software, The Times has been told.

The MoD agreed in 1995 to buy eight Chinook Mk3s from Boeing for £259 million. The avionics software would have cost a further £40 million, but defence insiders say that the ministry wanted to fit its own software — in spite of a warning from Boeing that it might not work.

Chinook helicopter in use over water
All at sea - MoD's decision to try and economise on  Chinook purchase from Boeing

When the aircraft were delivered six years later, the ministry found that it could not design the software which meant that the helicopters could not fly in difficult decisions. They have been stored in climate-controlled hangars ever since, in spite of two military conflicts, and when they finally come into service the total bill will be at least £500 million.

Defence insiders said: “The MoD and RAF said they wanted to fit their own avionics software. Boeing told them that they would have trouble integrating their software, but the MoD believed it could do it better than Boeing. The MoD found it couldn’t design the software for the Mk3s, as Boeing had warned.”

When the helicopters become active next year, they will be only the basic version of Chinook Mk 3, not high-tech models. The MoD has continually claimed that officials negotiating the contract in 1995 failed to ask for access to the software codes and that Boeing refused to hand them over after the mistake was realised.

Bernard Gray, a former defence adviser, highlighted the Chinooks as an example of overbudget and delayed equipment procurement in an internal MoD report that the Government has so far refused to publish. In 2004 the MoD went back to Boeing to see how the project could be salvaged, and spent 30 months negotiating a new type of Mk3, with Boeing software, at an additional cost of £215 million. The scheme was abandoned in 2007 and the MoD asked Beoing to convert the Chinooks into transport utility aircraft, at a further cost of £90 million, so that they could be sent to Afghanistan. One of the sources said: “This was a disastrous procurement programme which could have been resolved eight years ago.”

The MoD said last night that its version of events was correct and that all the documents had been passed to the National Audit Office: “Nothing has been hidden.

See also:
Chinook shortages
Landing a Chinook

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