Tuesday, May 02, 2006

UK servicemen "more expendable"

From the BBC:
The deaths of 10 UK personnel in Iraq in January 2005 could have been avoided if a safety device was fitted to their Hercules plane, the BBC has learned.

RAF pilots requested that explosive- suppressant foam devices be fitted to fuel tanks two years before the attack in which the men died, RAF papers show...

Former RAF Hercules pilot Nigel Gilbert, who trained with the pilot killed in the attack, said: "I believe the probability is that the crew would have survived the attack if the aircraft had explosive suppressant foam in the fuel tanks.

"The crew was so good they could have even put it down in a road or put their landing gear up and landed it straight ahead in the desert. It was as flat as a pancake."
The full Today report can be heard here (streaming RAM).

Nigel Gilbert has been documenting his campaign to have Hercules aircraft fitted with the suppressant foam at the Professional Pilots Rumour Network (PPRuNe) forum. The lies and obfuscation from government ministers and senior MOD staff is breathtaking.

Whilst still serving in Afghanistan Gilbert expressed concerns about Hercules safety to his father, who in turn wrote to Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram. Ingram replied on Aug 7 2002:
"On the C130 Hercules aircraft engaged in Afghanistan area of operations firstly I can assure you that all C130 aircraft operating in Afghanistan are provided with a suite of defensive aids.........We are confident that for all military flights into Afghanistan appropriate self-protection measures are in place."
This was utter bullshit. Air crews were having to improvise by sitting on chains and flak jackets to protect themselves from ground fire. Gilbert recounts a tale about the then Defence Minister Geoff Hoon being "told that he was sitting on the aircraft's defensive aids suite (a flak jacket)"; the look on Hoon's face was "a picture".

More extracts from the PPRuNe forum:
Mr Reid assured us at the time of the (Board of Inquiry) report that a full risk assessment had been done in 2002 and that the conclusion was that no foam was deemed necessary for RAF Hercules aircraft. Thing is the Australians were operating in exactly the same theatre of operations and yet their conclusion was the opposite. Indeed, they rushed through mods with impressive urgency.
The Government and Chiefs of Staff know exactly what brought down XV179 last year and how to prevent it happening again. Armed with this knowledge work should have started last year on providing the Hercules fleet with Explosive Suppressant Foam. No action was taken and by agreeing to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and publishing BOI on the web, every “bad guy” in the World with an internet connection can find out how to shoot a Hercules down.
If the programme to equip the “J” with a “modern” DAS had not been cancelled in 2004, 15 additional aircraft would now have been available for deployment with a “modern” DAS. There is also an urgent need to afford passengers the protection of simple to use lightweight ballistic matting, a la our coalition partners. The failure of the Defence Chiefs and Government Ministers to provide this basic level of protection to Hercules crews and passengers deployed in hostile environments is a scandal. Their dereliction of "duty of care" leaves them open to a charge of gross negligence.
in the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom (a USAF MC-130H) took 19 hits from anti-aircraft artillery fire, ranging from 7.62 mm to 57 mm, with one shell shattering the pilot’s windscreen, and others striking the main wing spar. The plane landed with only three working engines and all 58 people on board were safely evacuated… The USAF aircraft had the protection of foam in the wing tanks.
"Flight International can, meanwhile, reveal that the UK is the only launch nation involved in the Airbus Military A400M programme not to have funded the installation of the safety equipment as part of its production order. “The [A400M] common standard aircraft does not come fitted with a fuel tank inerting system,” says the MoD. “Fuel tank inerting was not selected by the UK prior to, or after, contract signature.”
Airbus Military sources confirm that all other programme launch customers – Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey – have selected the equipment for their 155 aircraft. The UK also previously removed defensive countermeasures equipment from all but nine of its 25 A400Ms, reducing procurement costs by around £240 million ($417 million)."
There’s much more like this, and depressing reading it makes too. As Nigel Gilbert said on the Today programme:
"It seems to me that lives of UK servicemen are maybe more expendable than those of our coaliton partners."
I salute him for his tenacity. Some Hercules aircraft will at last be fitted with protective foam, but typically the MOD refuses to say how many. Gilbert promises corporate manslaughter charges if there are any more avoidable deaths.

No wonder John Reid wore a protective vest (or should that be THE protective vest?) when he visited Iraq recently - he was probably frightened that one of our boys might not be able to resist the chance of a clear shot.


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