Ministry of Defence: Chinook Mk 3 - Public Accounts Committee Contents

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.[3]

2. In 2005, the Department acknowledged that the Chinook Mk3 project had been badly handled and was one of its worst procurement experiences.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11] For the amount of money spent so far, it should have been able to purchase more than just eight helicopters.[12]

3   C&AG's Report, para 1.2 Back

4   Committee of Public Accounts, Eighth Report of Session 2004-05: Ministry of Defence: Battlefield Helicopters, HC 386 Back

5   C&AG's Report, para 1.3 Back

6   Q 16 Back

7   C&AG's Report, para 2.4 Back

8   Q 74 Back

9   Q 26 Back

10   Q 100 Back

11   Q 53 Back

12   Q 144 Back

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