8th PAC Report 2008-09: Ministry of Defence: Chinook Mk 3
Published March 5, 2009
35 pages in PDF format
“The story of the MOD’s programme to make airworthy eight Chinook Mk3 helicopters, acquired from Boeing in 2001 for special operations work, has been one of bad decision-making to the point of irresponsibility,” said the chairman of the PAC in releasing this report.
The programme was hamstrung from the start by the appalling decision to buy the aircraft without securing access to their software source code. This meant that the MOD could not show that the cheaper, modified cockpit avionics which it had chosen met UK airworthiness standards and hence that the helicopters were safe to fly. Eight years after they were delivered, the Chinook Mk3s are still sitting in hangers and the cost of getting them into the air is probably going to top £422 million, probably by a big margin.
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 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.
Although this is not the first time that the MoD’s procurement of Chinook Mk. 3 helicopters has been examined, this report contains several points of particular interest; for example, the revelation that MoD’s failure to upgrade its simulators has forced it to divert scarce Chinooks for pilot training boggles the mind.
Most noteworthy is the Committee’s observation that it was irresponsible of MoD not to obtain access to the Chinook software source codes, and that such access should be a clear requirement in any contract.
This should sound warning bells for Britain’s planned purchase of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) as, despite its attempts to force the issue, the British government has not so far secured access to the JSF software source codes which Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon want to keep firmly in their own hands.