Posted by Ian at 10 13 PM on Saturday, July 25
DESPERATE crew shortages will ground FOUR vital Chinook helicopters which could be deployed in Afghanistan.
The RAF and Army Air Corps are racing to get six Chinooks modified for duty in the Helmand frontline.
But only two will be sent and armed forces insiders have revealed that’s because there are not enough mechanics and flying crew to service the Chinooks and keep them in the air.
Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said last night: “We can and we will do more. But I won’t put soldiers in helicopters in a war zone until the crews have been trained and modifications made.”
An insider added: “The problem isn’t getting the airframes out there, it’s getting the men and women on the ground to make sure they are maintained and able to operate.
“There’s no point having extra helicopters in Afghanistan if there aren’t the guys to fly them and enough manpower to keep them working.
“The turnaround of staff isn’t quick enough to have the extra capacity out there. More have to be trained up and it has to be done quickly.”
Under military rules, servicemen can only spend a limited time abroad on deployment.
Helicopter pilots and crews do shorter three-month tours because of long hours and high pressure.
The Mark 3A Chinooks are being taken apart by engineers and rewired by engineers at Boscombe Down, Dorset.
They were bought for £259million for special forces and delivered to the RAF in 2001, but have been parked since then because MoD top brass failed to ask Boeing for the rights to avionics software. Without that the Chinooks can’t be flown as planned.
Now, instead of being used by the SAS, they are being converted back to Mark 3Rs for regular troops in Afghanistan.
On Friday, an extra 125 soldiers were sent to Afghanistan to maintain force levels after a recent spate of deaths and injuries. Mr Ainsworth also revealed the government is ready to send hundreds more later this summer.
The deploymentwill include a company from 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (Duke of Wellington’s), specialists from 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps and members of 19th Regiment Royal Artillery.
Mr Ainsworth said: “This month 20 British soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan. More have been wounded and reinforcements have been called up to make sure the momentum that their sacrifices helped generate is not lost. Our armed forces are the best of the best — professional, skilled, determined and courageous.
“People are entitled to ask why our brave people are sacrificing their lives for us. It is my job to give the answer.
“We are fighting in Afghanistan to protect our national security.
“A Taliban return would give al-Qaeda greater freedom to plan more terrorist attacks — in all probability, in Britain itself.”