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The BBC's David Shukman
"The Lynx helicopter is the work horse of the Royal Navy"
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Defence minister Lewis Moonie
"This was obviously a serious problem"
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Friday, 28 April, 2000, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Safety scare grounds Lynx helicopters

Some army helicopters may also have to be grounded
More than 40 Royal Navy helicopters have been grounded after a safety scare.

The 44 Lynx helicopters will be out of action for months and it will take at least two years for the entire fleet to be up and running again, the Ministry of Defence admitted.

It leaves just 15 operational Lynxes for the Navy's entire fleet of 20 frigates and destroyers.

Our prime concern is to make sure that air crews and naval staff are safe

Ministry of Defence
The helicopters - which perform a vital role patrolling waters around warships - were withdrawn from use after an investigation into a Lynx operated by the Dutch navy which crashed last year.

Manufacturers GKN Westland recommended that new titanium rotor heads be installed on 44 of the 59 Lynxes based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset.

Operational impact

Some Army helicopters may also have to be grounded, though the majority are fitted with different specification rota heads.

An MOD spokesman said that the Navy helicopters had been withdrawn as a precaution and would all be fitted with new equipment.

A spokesman said: "Our prime concern is to make sure that air crews and naval staff are safe.

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"We believe that the entire fleet will be operational again within 24 months."

The spokesman added: "We are sure that this will not affect our ability to maintain out operational commitments, for example in the Gulf or out on the Caribbean."

Defence minister Dr Lewis Moonie described the situation as "serious" but stressed that the armed forces would be able to cope.

He told the BBC: "It will not actually affect the operational capability of the Navy because we do have the capacity to move our existing heads around between the Navy and Army helicopters.

'Salami slicing'

It is the latest in a series of embarrassing setbacks suffered by the British armed forces.

More than 300,000 standard issue British Army rifles are being recalled after evidence showed the weapon was prone to jamming.

There have also been claims that the Royal Navy was forced to keep some ships in dock because of fuel shortage.

And the 1bn Tornado GR4 encountered early difficulties with its precision-guided bombs.

Earlier this month it was revealed that British troops in Kosovo almost ran out of munitions during the conflict.

A National Audit Office report leaked to the BBC also criticised some of the equipment and medicines issued to service personnel.

Shadow Defence Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the Government had slashed 800m a year from the defence budget but were deploying British forces on more and more operations.

"As a result they are now so overstretched that there is no slack left in the system," he said.

"Ships will have to put to sea without the necessary helicopter coverage. It's yet another reason why Labour have failed on defence."

Paul Beaver, of the magazine Jane's Defence Weekly, said the grounding of the helicopters was a result of "10 years of salami slicing defence cuts".

He added: "A warship without a helicopter isn't really a warship. They are absolutely vital.

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25 Feb 00 | UK
Catalogue of MoD misery
28 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
NI Army helicopters grounded
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