1 The Original Procurement of Chinook
Mk3 helicopters |
1. In 1995, the Ministry of Defence (the Department)
decided that, in order to meet the long standing requirement for
dedicated helicopters to support special operations, an original
order for 14 Chinook Mk2a helicopters from Boeing would be changed.
Six were retained as Mk2a and have flown satisfactorily ever since
they were delivered, but it was decided that the other eight would
be modified to become Chinook Mk3 helicopters. The Chinook Mk3
helicopters feature unique cockpit avionics which, because of
the Department's budgetary priorities elsewhere, ended up being
a hybrid of analogue and digital systems, rather than a pure digital
arrangement as used in the United States special operations Chinook
(MH47-E) and by the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
2. In 2005, the Department acknowledged that the
Chinook Mk3 project had been badly handled and was one of its
worst procurement experiences.
The eight Chinook Mk3 helicopters initially cost some £259
million and the Department took delivery of them from Boeing in
December 2001. The hybrid digital and analogue cockpit avionics
could not be shown to meet United Kingdom airworthiness standards.
As a result, the helicopters could only be granted a limited release
to fly, and are restricted to flying on cloudless days above 500
feet where the pilot can navigate via landmarks. This makes them
completely unsuitable for use on operations.
3. One of the key reasons for not granting a full
release to fly was that the software codes that maintained the
instrument displays in the Mk3 cockpit could not be proven to
be safe. The Department acknowledged that analysis of the code,
which would help anticipate how the software, and hence the helicopter,
would behave in all flight conditions, may have enabled it to
certify them as safe. Boeing, in protecting their intellectual
property rights, denied the Department access to the software
source code. The Department accepted that the original contract,
which did not mandate access to the codes, was not sufficient
for the purpose of procuring helicopters that could be proven
to be safe.
4. Following the delivery of the aircraft to the
United Kingdom in 2001, the Department undertook a protracted
series of project reviews and analyses before deciding in 2004
on the Fix to Field solution.
The Department acknowledged that these extended discussions between
themselves and Boeing were informed by a desire not to repeat
the mistakes of their predecessors and to fully de-risk the project.
5. The procurement of equipment from other nations,
especially the United States of America, is becoming more common,
but has been problematic. For example, the Joint Strike Fighter,
Apache Helicopters, and other equipment and weapons have suffered
from time and cost delays in procurement due to the Department
requiring modifications to the original specification. The Chinook
Mk3 is another clear example of such changes. The United States
Army Special Forces operate the Chinook "MH47E" and
"G" model helicopters, on which the British Chinook
Mk3 is based. If the Department had not been so willing to compromise
on the specification of the cockpit, it might have been able to
prove airworthiness in the same way as it has for other aircraft.
For example, by using the safety cases put together by the United
States for the C17 aircraft, the Department has been able to satisfy
the British airworthiness authorities and use the aircraft operationally,
without having to resort to analysis of the flight software. The
Department acknowledged that it should not over-specify changes
to equipment or platforms unless it had, for example, to fit United
Kingdom specific communications equipment.
6. British troops deployed to operational theatres
do their job to the best of their abilities, often with just enough
equipment and, on occasion, in the absence of key battle-winning
equipment. It has been widely reported, and is acknowledged by
the Department, that with more resources, in particular helicopters,
operational commanders could do more, both in battle and in support
of reconstruction efforts. The Department noted that, as with
every aspect of military capability, there is not an inexhaustible
supply of equipment. On occasion, requests for helicopter lift
capability from officers in theatres have had to be declined,
in particular, for reconstruction tasks, but core military requirements
had always been met.
7. The Department estimated that the final cost of
the eight Chinook Mk3 helicopters upon entering service will be
in excess of £422 million, or £52.5 million each. The
Department acknowledged that, including the costs of the original
flawed procurement and the projects to enable the helicopters
to enter service, it has ended up spending more on the eight helicopters
than planned. For
the amount of money spent so far, it should have been able to
purchase more than just eight helicopters.
3 C&AG's Report, para 1.2 Back
Committee of Public Accounts, Eighth Report of Session
2004-05: Ministry of Defence: Battlefield Helicopters,
HC 386 Back
C&AG's Report, para 1.3 Back
Q 16 Back
C&AG's Report, para 2.4 Back
Q 74 Back
Q 26 Back
Q 100 Back
Q 53 Back
Q 144 Back