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The NAO has today reported on whether the Ministry of Defence has taken appropriate steps to make its fleet of eight Chinook Mk3 helicopters operational. The helicopters were delivered in 2001 but airworthiness concerns mean that they have been kept in storage and not flown operationally.

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According to today’s report to Parliament, the MoD’s progress in fielding the Chinook Mk3 helicopters has been protracted. As a result, the shortage of helicopters to support operations has been exacerbated. Had the MOD been quicker to progress the ‘Fix to Field’ project (the technical solution to make the Mk3 helicopters operational), the subsequent ‘Reversion’ project (to convert them to the Mk2 standard) would have been unnecessary.

The MOD’s decision to revert the Chinook Mk3 helicopters will make them available for standard support helicopter operations two years earlier than would have been the case under the ‘Fix to Field’ project and will improve operational flexibility. The interim arrangement for special operations requirements has been achieved by adapting Chinook Mk2/2a helicopters with the Night Enhancement Package, though this has been an imperfect solution.

The operational requirement to make additional helicopters available in Afghanistan meant that the March 2007 decision to cancel ‘Fix to Field’ and revert (adapt for standard operations) the Chinook Mk3 helicopters was made quickly and not based on the level of detailed analysis that would usually be expected for an investment of this magnitude. The project did, however, subsequently pass through the Department’s regular approvals process before the main contract was placed in December 2007.

The total costs associated with the Chinook Mk3s from their initial procurement through to completion of the ‘Reversion’ project will be some £422 million not including further expenditure required to sustain the night enhancement package necessary to conduct demanding very low light missions.

"Since 2001 the MOD has been trying to work out how to make the Chinook Mk3 helicopters available for operations. Its original Fix to Field project progressed very slowly. In 2007 changing operational imperatives meant that the Department decided to start a new reversion project to make the helicopters operational more quickly, though with a lesser capability. The Chinook Mk3 story reemphasises the importance of timely decision making, clearly understanding requirements and proceeding purposefully to the solution."

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office


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