Page last updated at 18:55 GMT, Friday, 2 March 2007

RAF safety request 'was refused'

Hercules C130K
The MoD says upgrades are being done urgently

An ex-Royal Air Force squadron leader says he warned bosses that Hercules aircraft not fitted with anti-explosive foam were at risk.

In 2005, a Hercules was shot down in Iraq killing 10 servicemen, and an inquiry said the lack of the foam in fuel tanks may have been to blame.

Sqn Ldr Chris Seal told the BBC he asked in 2002 for explosive suppressant foam (ESF) to be added to the fleet.

The MoD insists the upgrades are now being done with "great urgency".

Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: "If this is true it is clear the risk was identified three years before the loss of life in the 2005 crash in Iraq, and still very little has been done about it."

ESF, which prevents fuel tanks exploding if hit by ground fire, has been standard in all US planes since 1967.

The MoD says the "difficult engineering task" of fitting the system to the entire C-130 fleet will be completed by the end of this year.

But so far only seven out of 48 Hercules have been upgraded.

Sqn Ldr Seal told the BBC he was "content" that something was happening.

But he added: "To my mind that is not enough, and it should have been done quicker.

"Give the guys the tools to do the job. They'll do it. But don't sell 'em down the river."

Career ended

In 2002, Sqn Ldr Seal was the detachment commander based in Oman during the Afghanistan conflict.

He showed us the video that showed the effects of a bullet hitting the fuel tanks with foam and without foam... You could almost hear the jaws drop
Sqn Ldr Chris Seal
It was a presentation there by a US officer that prompted his request for ESF.

"He showed us the video that showed the effects of a bullet hitting the fuel tanks with foam and without foam," he said.

"You could almost hear the jaws drop and hit the floor as we saw that."

He believes his request was sent up the RAF chain of command, but it is not known whether it ever reached the MoD.

He claims that this and previous attempts to alert superior officers to the risks faced by aircraft and crews brought his RAF career to an end.

He left in 2005.

An RAF board of inquiry admitted that the lack of ESF may have contributed to the crash of Hercules 179 in 2005.

An inquest into the deaths will be held later this year.

Richard Stead, whose son Flt Lt David Stead, 35, died in the crash, has been lobbying to have the entire fleet made safer.

He said: "It is too late to protect our sons, but not too late for the protection of others who daily fly these aircraft in danger zones and throughout the world."

Money 'not the issue'

The MoD says the deaths of the 10 servicemen would not definitely have been prevented by ESF, but said "financial constraints" were not the issue.

As part of the military covenant the government have a duty to protect personnel from risks as far as is possible
Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox
A spokesman said: "Equipment upgrades are made on the recommendation of specialist advice, informed by operational experience and intelligence assessments.

"Prior to the crash, C-130 aircraft were not considered to be especially vulnerable to a fuel tank explosion.

"The department therefore focused its efforts on introducing other defensive systems, thought to provide greater protection against known threats."

Dr Fox said: "As part of the military covenant the government have a duty to protect personnel from risks as far as is possible.

"If the majority of the RAF Hercules fleet was in working order the MoD would be able to fit ESF to more aircraft than at present, but the current overstretch is hitting hard."

EXPLOSIVE SUPPRESSANT FOAM SYSTEM
Graphic showing how safety foam can help protect Hercules
1. Without foam: Explosive mix of fuel vapour and air above liquid fuel ignites easily. Once this ignites, a compression wave pressurises the remaining gas, increasing the explosion.

2. With foam: Foam expands to fill space in tank as fuel level drops. Vapour ignition is confined to the area close to spark, stopping explosion.




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