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By Howard Wheeldon

MoD Calling Treasury……Help…Another Fine Procurement Mess We Got Into…….Plus…..Thank Heavens for The Venerable Vickers VC10!

30 Mar 10. With the first of a planned fleet of 14 new Airbus A330 aircraft already undergoing conversion to MRT tanker configuration here in the UK and to be told at this delicate stage of the programme that the new aircraft are insufficiently protected to fly to warzones and that the remedy will cost the UK taxpayer even more is quite frankly appalling. Equally bad for the taxpayer is that Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft PFI programme is now running some five and a half years behind the original plan. Another fine UK MoD procurement mess then to add to the list of the many other disasters that have occurred over the past forty years.

Never mind, have no fear, we’ll take it on the chin and the well warn if expensive to operate fleet Vickers VC10 aircraft that have an average age of maybe 44 years together with the just slightly younger small fleet of equally well fatigued Lockheed Martin TriStar 1011 aircraft will just have to keep on flying for a bit longer! And believe me they will be able to do that just fine. Indeed, I might add that UK and allied forces can count themselves very fortunate that the fleet of BAE Systems maintained VC10 tankers, in association with DSG, are more than able to cope with the very heavy daily demands still being placed on them. As for the TriStar – probably less said the better though I guess they too will just about manage to hang on for a little while yet. Both aircraft types are currently used as tanker aircraft with RAF transport requirements being supplemented by the mighty Boeing C-17 Globemaster aircraft and to a lesser extent, by well used fleet of Lockheed Martin built C-130J Hercules. However, from a transport perspective and despite the recent announcement that an additional seventh aircraft has been ordered, the RAF still finds itself very short on capacity when it comes to moving troops and equipment. Indeed, from a troop movement perspective the capacity shortfall situation has been made even worse in recent weeks as a direct result of the Haddon-Cave enquiry into the loss of the Nimrod MR2 aircraft in September 2006 as my current understanding is that after all those years in the joint tanker and transport role the MoD no longer allows VC10 aircraft to be used purely as troop carriers.

The FSTA programme and the appalling National Audit Office criticism published today condemning the MoD for its handling of the original procurement process and also as to how it has subsequently handled the hugely expensive £10bn plus Private Finance Initiative plan that is based on outsourcing virtually the whole thing to EADS and its partners. Going back is hardly an option although I would be very surprised that if the Conservatives win the upcoming General Election that the whole FSTA programme might well be re-negotiated. The full operating program will eventually see a total 14 Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker aircraft replace the existing fleets of VC10 and TriStar 1011 transport and tanker aircraft. Clearly replacement of the older aircraft is now long overdue but I continue to view FSTA as being far too full of potential additional taxpayer risk. That the NAO should need to highlight the fact that when ordered by the MoD and when British troops under NATO command were already fully engaged in Afghanistan and with so surely having been learned about protection for tanker refuelling and transport aircraft in the Iraq campaign that some idiot was allowed to decide that as the new Airbus A330MRT aircraft would be unlikely to be flying in a warzone they would not need additional protection is just preposterous! But even if words here almost fail me I repeat that above all other RAF programmes I worry more about the overall size of the FSTA PFI and particularly of the

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