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

3  Operational issues

12. As a consequence of the failure to make the Chinook Mk3 airworthy, the Department introduced a bolt-on capability called the Night Enhancement Package. This arrangement enabled the use of the Chinook Mk2 helicopters in very low light conditions when supporting special operations. The Department acknowledged that, in order to fly with the Night Enhancement Package, the pilots, who come from 7 Squadron RAF, need to be better trained as it is harder to fly compared with standard Mk2 Chinooks. The Department confirmed that there had been two accidents where the Night Enhancement Package had a bearing on the incident.[21] In approving the Night Enhancement Package, the Department sought assurances that a funded project would be developed to mitigate the air safety risks associated with it. With the cancellation of Fix to Field project, however, this was no longer the case.[22]

13. Military equipment is becoming more and more reliant on computers to assist in both their use and control. Equipment is often supplied by overseas contractors, such as the Joint Strike Fighter from Lockheed Martin or, in this case, the Chinook helicopter from Boeing. The use of software to enable equipment to function poses difficult questions for the Department in certifying that the aircraft are airworthy and safe to fly. The industry invests large amounts of money in the development of software integral to the operation of equipment. On occasion, in order to protect this investment, contractors may wish to restrict access to the software code. The original procurement contract for the Chinook Mk3 helicopter failed to specify access to the software as a key requirement. As a result, access to the code was denied and it was not possible to prove the Chinook Mk3 was safe to fly.

14. Flight simulators and other artificial training environments have been used successfully for many years by the Royal Air Force to augment the actual flying training achieved using helicopters. The ability to train pilots in other ways enables helicopters to be available for other forms of training, for example, pre-deployment training with infantry and other units. The Department's current Chinook helicopter flight simulators do not provide a close enough match to the helicopters currently in use to allow pilots to train effectively.[23] This has resulted in an increase in the number of Chinook helicopters required for use in pilot flight training, at the expense of combined pre-deployment training.

15. Through the Defence Logistics Transformation Programme, the Department have changed the maintenance of many key types of equipment, including helicopters. Most notably within the fast jet environment, the Department has increased the flying hours achieved while at the same time reducing the cost of maintaining these expensive aircraft.[24] In the last six months, the Department has increased the Chinook helicopter flying rate in Afghanistan by 20% and over all helicopters deployed, it has increased flying hours available to commanders by a third.[25]

21   Q 11 Back

22   C&AG's Report, para 3.7 Back

23   Q 110 Back

24   C&AG's report, Transforming Logistic Support for Fast Jets, HC (2006-07) 825 Back

25   Q 33 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 5 March 2009