15 April 2004 | Andrew Golder
The National Audit Office (NAO) has bitterly criticised flawed procurement practices that have delayed the introduction of badly needed Chinook helicopters into the UK armed forces by nine years.
Its report on battlefield helicopters said the Ministry of Defence's previous procurement practices meant that eight HC3 helicopters, expected to enter service in 1998, will not be ready until 2007.
It will cost £129 million to bring the helicopters up to standard, on top of the £259 million already spent by the MoD.
This week, the NAO said the procurement process used to buy the aircraft had aggravated the armed forces' shortage of battlefield helicopters.
The delay was caused because software used to run the cockpit systems has not yet been proved to meet UK defence standards, and almost half of the "essential elements" needed to bring the aircraft up to the standard of the rest of the UK's helicopter fleet have not been fitted.
As a result, pilots can only fly the helicopters above 500 feet in cloudless skies in conditions where they do not have to rely on their instruments.
An MoD spokeswoman said it had acknowledged the criticism and had already conducted a number of internal inquiries to learn lessons for the future.
She said: "The MoD is confident that its current procurement strategy of 'smart acquisition', with its emphasis on risk reduction up front, will help in exposing and dealing with issues earlier."