The Ministry of Defence's delay in introducing eight new Chinook helicopters to troops in Afghanistan has endangered the lives of British troops, a report said today. The report, issued by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, says the delay has been a colossal disaster in nearly every way; the project's budget has seen a 70 per cent increase, a poorly defined contract prevented access to software that would have allowed the helicopters to be deemed flight ready, and the original helicopters have had to be downgraded to get airworthiness certification. However, most appallingly, by delaying their delivery to Afghanistan, the MoD has forced British troops to endure a shortage in helicopter support and instead to carry out more operations by land, putting them at incredible and unnecessary risk, leading to the deaths of soldiers by roadside bombs they should have been nowhere near.
The report released today is highly critical of the MoD, and specifically of the Chinook project. It said that the project has been the victim of slow decision-making, a rapid escalation in its budget and countless organisational failures. The Public Accounts Committee has outlined several problems and suggested key revisions in planning future projects to prevent continued problems. One of the biggest issues has been that the MoD requested far too many modifications to the new equipment, causing delays, software problems and unreliability, all of which can be deadly on the battlefield. Essentially, their eyes were bigger than their stomach, a phenomenon I think is not unique to the Ministry of Defence in the public sector. The MoD has since said that "...particularly when buying existing equipment ‘off-the-shelf’, it tends to specify too many modifications, when what is needed is equipment that is safe, effective and can be made available for operations quickly."
The most frustrating element in this story is not the money wasted, the typical inefficiency of government, or the wimpy attempts to rectify the mistakes, but it is the fact that the MoD's failure to properly procure the helicopters, the lives of British troops have been put at risk and several have died. They have been irresponsible with money and with lives, which is unacceptable. Although changes have already been made in the way the MoD "does business" after issues began to arise,it must be said that too little was done far too late. Important lessons have to be learned from this debacle.