Britain’s embattled soldiers in Afghanistan will have to wait a year for the extra helicopters they need now, and up to two years for vital new Chinook troop-transports, The Herald can reveal.
Despite then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s promise last year that the garrison in Helmand province would have any resources they asked for, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed that the first possible front-line deployment of Merlin helicopters bought in an emergency purchase from Denmark in March will be in 2008.
Another eight Chinook aircraft bought in a procurement fiasco for the UK’s special forces five years ago are to be refurbished at a cost of more than £100m, but cannot enter service before 2009 at the earliest.
The eight helicopters cost the taxpayer £259m when they were ordered from Boeing in 1995. By the time they had been built to MoD specifications and delivered seven years later, the RAF discovered their onboard computer software could not pass stringent safety tests.
The versatile Chinook Mark 3s have since been grounded and cannibalised for spare parts. None has ever flown above 500ft and then only in clear weather.
British troops must wait a year for extra helicopters