Government breaking own guidelines on Afghanistan helicopters

July 27, 2009 2:30 PM

Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesman for Newcastle East Greg Stone has drawn attention to the fact that the Government's own strategic defence review identifies a serious shortfall in helicopter provision for its forces in Afghanistan.

The 1998 Strategic Defence Review identifies an operational requirement of 47 Chinook troop-carrying helicopters for a force of the size of the Operation Herrick contingent of approximately 9000 personnel. The size of the current Chinook force in Afghanistan is 12.

The RAF currently has a fleet of 40 Chinooks but more than half are out of service; eight advanced special-forces Chinooks ordered in 2001 at a cost of £259 million have never been flown due to the Government's failure to purchase the operating avionics software, resulting in them having to undergo expensive conversion into low-tech utility helicopters. Even when these aircraft are deployed to Afghanistan, total cover will remain well short of officially specified requirements.

British troops been forced to use land vehicles for transport, which has led to higher casualties, but also routine helicopter missions have experienced numerous delays. Transporting supplies and the wounded have often been slowed down by the lack of helicopters, in particular Chinooks. In one instance it was reported that troops on patrol in Helmand did not have access to fresh food for six weeks because the helicopter fleet was too overstretched to do a supply drop.

Greg Stone said "Gordon Brown is insisting British forces have enough helicopters but his Government's own defence review shows that they are operating at less than half of the requirement. The shortfall is exacerbated by the Government's expensive mistakes in procuring extra Chinooks. The effectiveness and safety of our military personnel is being restricted by the failure to give them the equipment they need to do the job".