IT often seems that there is something seriously wrong with the way that Britain's Ministry of Defence functions. In instance after instance decisions that appear to defy common sense are made and defended. National security is given as the reason that such decisions cannot be amended or reviewed.

The problem goes back a long way. Yesterday BBC Radio's Today programme produced evidence that the judgement of “gross pilot error” in the crash of a Chinook helicopter in thick fog at the Mull of Kintyre in 1994 had not taken into account a report by the RAF's own aircraft testing centre which warned that the Chinook's FADEC computer software was “positively dangerous” -- a report submitted six months before the crash and ignored. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who was defence minister at the time said yesterday that he was initially unaware of the report but was told when he enquired about it later that the RAF had itself concluded that the software problem could not have contributed to the crash and therefore need not be brought to the attention of the inquiry into its causes.

This is outrageous. The two senior RAF commanders who sat on the Board of Inquiry apparently knew about the FADEC warning but chose to put the blame on two of their pilots. Ministers at the time and subsequently did not reopen the inquiry or demand an explanation. It is time for a lock, stock and barrel inquiry into the Ministry of Defence itself.


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