No new copters for Afghanistan troops

Needless road-bombing bloodbath set to continue

The current operational RAF fleet of 40 Chinooks (the eight custom-crippled HC3s have yet to enter service) struggles to deliver anything beyond minimal capability. It is set to increase to 48 once the HC3s are finally sorted out, but there can't be any doubt that the 70-strong fleet foreseen before the election would have meant many lives saved and battles won for our troops, almost regardless of when and if they might withdraw from Afghanistan*.

Against this background the Coalition's decision to keep the RAF's bomber fleet and large numbers of equally outmoded navy frigates and army heavy tanks is looking worse and worse. The cost to those parts of the armed services which are actually useful in real wars looks set to become unacceptable. ®

Bootnote

*British troops have been dying for lack of helicopter lift at least since the 1979 Warrenpoint bombing in Northern Ireland. General Sir Michael Jackson revealed in his autobiography that following the Warrenpoint carnage "more helicopter hours were made available" and troops no longer had to use dangerous road routes in and out of South Armagh's "bandit country".

In Iraq there was the sad case of Major Matthew Bacon, who died in 2005 (two other soldiers merely lost limbs) when a British road convoy was bombed - a road convoy that only set out because the regular helicopter between Basra Palace and Basra airport had been cancelled.

The major's family wrote:

The real tragedy is that he had been booked to go on the regular helicopter flight between those two places...

To us, his parents, his brother and his soul mate he was truly a hero. We cannot imagine how life can go on without him.

Later in Afghanistan Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe was killed alongside one of his men in a roadside bombing. He had previously written:

I have tried to avoid griping about helicopters - we all know we don't have enough.

We cannot not move people, so this month we have conducted a great deal of administrative movement by road. This increases the IED [Improvised Explosive Device] threat and our exposure to it.

There have been many other such incidents, and several admissions from freshly-resigned British commanders that the UK simply doesn't have enough helicopters to support its frontline troops.

But it seems that politicians and the MoD will never learn, and bombers, frigates and tanks - most of which never see any serious combat - will always be seen as more important than a proper, working helicopter fleet; more important than our service people's lives.

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