Fiasco of the £260m Chinooks that can't fly


Last updated at 10:25 18 March 2005

Bungled efforts to spend £260million on a fleet of helicopters for the elite SAS regiment have turned into a 'disgraceful' waste of money, say MPs.

Eight Chinook helicopters have stood idle for five years because of botched contracts which left them unfit to fly.

In a report published today, MPs from the Commons Defence Select Committee claim the Ministry of Defence was unable to say whose fault the fiasco was.

The MoD bought the Chinook Mark 3 helicopters from US manufacturer Boeing ten years ago at £32million apiece. Their purpose was to ferry Special Forces teams deep behind enemy lines at low level, even in zero visibility.

To save money, the MoD tried to fit some of its own instruments and systems instead of buying 'off-the-shelf' kit. But the purchase contract was so badly drafted that many essential elements were left out.

Complex software problems mean the helicopters have never been fit to fly - except in weather 'clear of cloud'.

Fixing them will cost another £127million, meaning they may never become airborne.

The MPs' report says: "The Department (MoD) was unable to say who was responsible. No one seems accountable when things go wrong."

Committee chairman Edward Leigh added: "It is simply disgraceful that the MoD has spent a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers' money on the botched procurement of eight helicopters that cannot be flown, because the MoD can't determine if they're safe.

"This is one of the worst acquisitions seen by my committee."

Shadow Defence Minister Gerald Howarth said it was "a damning indictment of the Government's procurement failure".

The report also highlights an 'alarming' shortfall in battlefield helicopters available. Last April there were 357 available - between 20 and 38 per cent fewer than what are needed.

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