Tornado blunders attacked by MPs

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The Independent Online

Defence Correspondent

A sharp-eyed RAF technician was the only person to spot damage to 16 RAF Tornado fighters, incurred during a modification programme which had been contracted out to a civilian firm, MPs reported yesterday.

The damage is expected to cost the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds to put right and has led to a sharp warning about contracting out such operations.

The cross-party House of Commons Defence Committee attacked the MoD for accepting the 16 Tornado F3 fighter planes back into service from Airwork Ltd in 1993, and paying for the work on eight of them, solely on the basis of the contractor's paperwork and without checking they were serviceable. The report also highlighted defective work on Hercules transport planes.

The modification work by Airwork staff at RAF St Athan started in September 1992, but it was suspended in May 1993 after RAF personnel discovered the planes had been damaged.

"Significant damage" had occurred in the centre sections of 16 out of 18 planes. In addition, surface damage to significant load bearing structures and procedures to prevent the further growth of cracks had not been properly performed.

The report, on market testing and contracting out, said: "The discovery by MoD that this was far from true appears to have been a fortunate accident - an RAF technician noticed some damage - rather than by any planned inspection.

"This deplorable incident should be a salutary and timely lesson about the risks inherent in contracting out such work," the report continued. "contracts must be effectively monitored and supervised at all times".

The report said it was fortunate that the RAF had 148 of the planes and that the loss of 16 had not, therefore, significantly damaged its ability to defend UK airspace. In future, with a smaller air defence force, such a "deplorable incident" could have more serious effects.