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Author Topic: MoD plans raid on landmine removal fund to keep Tornados flying in Iraq  (Read 5135 times)

Offline tigershark

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MoD plans raid on landmine removal fund to keep Tornados flying in Iraq
 BAE Systems to do work of closed repairs facility
 Union demands inquiry as cost-cutting plan backfires

Money set aside to clear landmines and remove arms from conflict zones is to be raided to pay a private defence contractor to keep Tornado jets flying in Iraq, according to a confidential memo seen by the Guardian. The Ministry of Defence plans to pay BAE Systems from the multimillion-pound Conflict Prevention Fund - which covers projects such as destroying weapons in Bosnia and landmines in Mozambique - to subsidise the £5m-£10m cost of servicing each of the six planes.

The move follows a cost-cutting plan which has backfired for the MoD because of increased military action in Iraq.
The memo acknowledges that the emergency measure is needed because the MoD has closed its own state-of-the-art facility for servicing Tornado jets as a way of saving £500m over 10 years. A scaled-back facility is still not fully equipped for the job. Memos sent to ministers reveal that the ministry has decided to make the request to BAE Systems because the alternative facility, at RAF Marham in Norfolk, has "insufficient capacity".

The decision to close the fast jets and engines business of Dara, the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, based at St Athan, Glamorgan, from last April provoked a huge row in 2005. Trade unions, MPs and the all-party Commons defence committee condemned the move. At the time the committee concluded it was "perverse and wasteful for the MoD to invest large amounts of public money to renovate the facilities at RAF Marham when it has at its disposal a state-of-the-art facility at St Athan". The committee said: "It is doubtful that the facilities at RAF Marham will ever match those at Dara [in] St Athan."

A memo sent to Lady Taylor, the minister for defence equipment and support, reveals that the RAF has had to increase its operations in Iraq, and six Tornados have required servicing this year. "The net result is that there is insufficient capacity available at RAF Marham to meet the full requirements of the operational and training task," the memo says.

The memo proposes, and the minister accepts, that BAE Systems in Warton, Lancashire, should take over the work because it has a "gap" between completing an order for Saudi Arabia and new Tornado capability trials. It goes on: "The use of BAE Systems Warton will incur additional costs. BAE Systems are in the process of calculating these costs, but there is yet no timescale for their presentation to MoD. The additional monies will be subject of a claim against the Conflict Prevention Fund." The memo acknowledges there will be anger about the decision, which will attract "adverse comment from the unions". It adds: "Defensive news briefs are being developed to counter adverse media comment." Yesterday the Guardian showed the memo to the union Unite, which called for an inquiry by MPs on the defence committee and said it would seek an urgent meeting with the minister.

Ian Waddell, Unite's national officer, said: "We are angered and dismayed by the MoD's transfer of Tornado support to BAE Systems but not surprised. The decision to close a multimillion-pound, state-of-the-art facility and roll support forward to an ill-equipped RAF base was lunacy.

"It is now clear that everything we said has been vindicated. Unite maintained throughout the closure of Tornado support at Dara St Athan that RAF Marham could not cope with the work, and would fail to meet surge requirements. We believe parliament and the Commons defence select committee were misled over the closure of St Athan.

"Only a few weeks ago the government announced their decision to sell off helicopter support to Vector Aerospace, which we have warned could have serious consequences for the UK's battlefield helicopters. That decision looks even more ludicrous now that our concerns over fast jet support have proved to be true."

James Arbuthnot, Tory chairman of the defence committee, said yesterday: "We will consider holding an inquiry to see how the MoD have handled this and will also want to look into the wider issue that equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan is much more heavily used and what steps are the MoD taking to deal with this."

The MoD confirmed the decision. A spokeswoman said: "This is a short-term measure only, due to Tornados' increased use on operations. From April 2009 all Tornados will undergo depth maintenance at RAF Marham."






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