Friday, November 09, 2007

Nimrod - a scandal and a disgrace.........a metaphor for the Labour Party?

Thanks to Nich for picking up this issue. Any fellow Lib Dems who attended the launch meeting of the Lib Dem Friends of the Armed Forces would have been deeply moved by the contribution of my old army pal Mick Smith, in particular when he raised the Nimrod issue. What he said that evening is recorded on his blog and this is an issue that as an award winning investigative journalist, he continues to pursue. To quote Mick's speech in Brighton -

"The other name that will always come to mind now whenever I think about the mistreatment of our troops will be Graham Knight, who is currently involved in investigating what happened to his son Ben, who was one of 14 servicemen killed when an RAF Nimrod spy plane exploded over Afghanistan just over a year ago.

Amid all the many horrific occurrences of cost-cutting and penny-pinching by those in charge of the armed forces, the scandal of the Nimrod is surely one of the worst. The Nimrod was first introduced in 1969 and should have been taken out of service in 1995. But as a result of a cost-cutting, that has been put back to 2010.

Three years ago, the MoD asked the Nimrod manufacturer BAE Systems to check whether it was safe to continue in service. By now it was heavily used over Iraq and was required for even tougher treatment over Afghanistan. BAE Systems recommended that a fire detection and suppression system be installed in the bomb bay. The MoD decided it wouldn’t work, which begs the question as to why BAE Systems would have recommended it. The bottom line is – as ever – that it would have cost money.

A couple of months later, an elderly cooling pipe in the bomb bay burst open and sprayed super-heated air onto one of the fuel tanks at the root of the starboard wing. The investigation used a Rolls Royce test bed to find out how hot the air would have been at the time the pipe burst. It found it would have been between 310°C to 424°C. The spontaneous ignition point of Avtur, the fuel used by the Nimrod, is 260°C. It was fortunate the pipe burst just as the aircraft was coming back into land.

In the conclusions at the end of the investigation’s report, the station commander at RAF Kinloss, the Nimrod base, warned that “the unexpected failure” was an ever present problem in an aircraft that is now 12 years past its out-of-service date.

The possibility of a cooling pipe leak was not the only possible failure on the Nimrod. It used an antiquated air-to-air refuelling system initially installed in 1982 as a quick-fix to get the aircraft down to the Falklands. This was being used repeatedly in Afghanistan to keep the spy plane in the air. As a result there had been a large number of leaks from the fuel pipes, some of them involving large amounts of fuel, leaking out of the aircraft.

On September 2, 2006, the “unexpected failure” predicted by the Kinloss station commander occurred. The pilot of XV230, the first Nimrod to be introduced to the RAF in 1969, reported a fire in his bomb bay during an operation over southern Afghanistan. He tried to get the aircraft down to Kandahar air base, dropping from 23,000 feet to just 3,000 feet in 90 seconds. A Harrier aircraft followed XV230 down and saw the starboard wing explode first, followed a few seconds later by the rest of the aircraft.

The Board of Inquiry is still to report, and although we know that its initial findings were that leaking fuel ignited causing the explosion, we are only aware of most of the narrative I have given you because Graham Knight refused to sit quietly and wait for someone to give him a sanitised version of why his son died. It has been a recurrent theme of recent years, parents trying to find out why cost-cutting and incompetence killed their children. These are only the most famous.

Geoff Gray on the loss of his son – also called Geoff – at Deepcut;
Rose Gentle on the death of her son Gordon in a Snatch Land Rover in Basra;
Reg Keyes on the loss of his son Tom when six Royal Military Policemen were left to be massacred by Iraqis in Majar al-Kabir without any means of calling for help;
And now Graham Knight, looking for the truth about his son Ben.

It is something that should shame us all as a nation that we should treat these people and their dead children so shabbily given everything our servicemen and women do for us."

Frankly whatever our view on the military or the war with Iraq, I hope we can all agree that if we ask our innocent and sometimes naive young people (and I can say that having joined the forces at 17 - very wet behind the ears) to go and fight our battles, the least they can expect is that we do all in our power to ensure the only threats they are exposed to are from opposing forces, not our own penny pinching, negligence, incompetence and sheer complacency.

No comments: