The Ministry of Defense has spent almost $1 billion on eight Chinook helicopters that have never been flown as a result of “one of the most incompetent procurements of all time,” an audit has concluded.

The helicopters have been sitting in a special air-conditioned shelter for the past seven years because the machines’ software could not be accessed, the Times of London reported

While commanders in Afghanistan have been crying out for extra helicopters, the Chinooks — which were supposed to fly missions for Special Forces — have been lying idle in hangars.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) says that by the time the helicopters enter service, the cost of making them airworthy as well as taking interim measures to fill the capability gap will have risen to nearly $1 billion. The original purchase price of the eight Chinooks was over $500 million.

The procurement nightmare involving the unflyable eight Chinook Mk3s, bought from Boeing in 2001, has already been the subject of one NAO report, published in 2004. Then it was described by Edward Leigh, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, as “one of the most incompetent procurements of all time.”

The major difficulty with the purchase arose when the MoD discovered that it had neglected to include in the contract a clause that would provide access to the source codes for the highly complex software. Without them, Royal Air Force specialists were unable to check whether the adapted helicopters passed Britain’s strict airworthiness criteria.

Boeing was reluctant to hand over the codes since no request had been made for them in drawing up the contract. So the RAF said that the Chinooks could not be flown except in favorable weather. The sky had to be cloudless and the pilots would have to operate from at least 500 feet so that they could navigate by landmarks.

“Today, nearly seven years since they were delivered, the Chinook Mk3s are still languishing in climate-controlled hangers, despite the fact that they are desperately needed on operations in Afghanistan,” Leigh said.

After the shock of discovering that it was too risky to fly the Chinooks in cloudy weather, the MoD negotiated with Boeing in 2004 to upgrade the eight helicopters, including modifications to the cockpit, costing $420 million. It took 30 months for the program to be agreed, however, and in 2006 the MoD announced that thousands more troops would be sent to Afghanistan and more helicopters were desperately needed, especially Chinooks. The MoD decided to cancel the Chinook Mk3 upgrade project and convert the special-forces helicopters into ordinary troop-carrying utility helicopters. But the NAO said that the MoD failed properly to analyze the costs and risks of this decision. The costs rose by 70 percent from $104 million to $176 million.

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