In 1995, the Ministry of Defence (the Department) ordered 14 Chinook Mk2a helicopters. Six of these were retained as Mk2a and have flown satisfactorily ever since they were delivered. The other eight were modified to an Mk3 standard in order to meet a requirement for Special Forces. We examined the procurement of these eight helicopters in our report on Battlefield Helicopters and considered it to be one of the worst examples of equipment procurement that we had ever seen.
The Department has a history of long delays and cost increases within its procurement projects. Even by these standards, the Chinook Mk3 project has been a catalogue of errors from the start. The original contract was ill defined, preventing easy access to software source code that was key to enabling certification for airworthiness. Further operational requirements and difficult commercial negotiations led to a five year period of protracted negotiation and slow decision making under a project known as Fix to Field.
The absence of these helicopters has meant that British troops in Afghanistan have had to make do with fewer helicopters, make an increased number of dangerous journeys by road and, due to the specialist nature of the Mk3, rely on heavily modified Mk2 helicopters for use on high risk special operations. The modification of the Mk2 Chinook cockpit to enable their use in low light conditions was a far from perfect solution and compounded safety risks. These delays have potentially put the lives of British service personnel at greater risk.
In 2007, under mounting pressure to provide additional helicopter lift to Afghanistan, the Department scrapped the Fix to Field project in favour of a new project called Reversion, designed to accelerate the helicopters' entry into operational service. In assessing the Reversion project, however, the Department failed to consult with Boeing, the manufacturer of the helicopters, with regard to the potential costs or timeframes, and the estimated cost of the project subsequently grew by 70%.
The cost of the eight Chinook Mk3 helicopters once they enter service will be in excess of £422 million, or £52.5 million each. Alternatives that may have been available at the time the original order was placed may have been cheaper than the final costs of these Chinooks.
On the basis of a Report from the Comptroller and Auditor General, we took evidence from the Ministry of Defence on the original procurement difficulties, the Department's decision-making processes and the impact of the procurement on operations.