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Iraq: Destruction of Hercules C130

Volume 689: debated on Tuesday 20 February 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Under what circumstances a United Kingdom Hercules C130 aircraft was destroyed on 12 February in Maysan Province, Iraq; and what was the value of the aircraft.

My Lords, a Hercules C130 on a routine mission was involved in an incident on landing in Maysan on 12 February. The initial investigation suggests that it was struck by an improvised explosive device similar to a roadside bomb. After assessment of the damage, it was concluded that the aircraft could not be recovered without undue risk to personnel so the aircraft was destroyed by UK forces. The current market value of a C130J is in the region of £45 million.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for a very full and helpful Answer. I am glad that none of the crew aboard the aircraft suffered serious injury. How does he reconcile the very positive statements about the security situation in Maysan province, which we were talking about handing over to the Iraqis, with the fact that we have just destroyed £45 million worth of aircraft and, perhaps more importantly, a key enabling capability with the modern C130J?

My Lords, it is in the nature of the operations that we carry out; I can understand the noble Lord’s point. We need to recognise that Maysan province is relatively peaceful, but relative for Maysan, which has always been rather the wild west within Iraq. We are reviewing closely the security situation in Maysan province. We still believe that it will be possible in the relatively near future—we believe in the spring—to make the transition to the Iraqi security forces in that province. As we have always said, that strategy and its implementation are based on conditions on the ground.

My Lord, how many C130 aircraft have been lost since January 2006? Bearing in mind the acute, acknowledged difficulties that the air transport force is having in meeting the requirements in two theatres of war, what steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to replace the lost C130 aircraft?

My Lords, if my memory is correct, this is the second such C130 aircraft that we have lost; but if that is incorrect, I shall write to the noble and gallant Lord. We have a fleet of 25—now 24, with this loss—C130J aircraft, together with the C17 and the other aircraft in the air transport fleet. We regard that we have the necessary assets and recognise the pressure that the fleet is under. The necessary replacement for the lost aircraft is in transit as we speak, and we believe that we can continue to maintain a full operation in the region as a result.

My Lords, Iraqi insurgents are going after American helicopters with some success. Is the Minister satisfied that our helicopters are adequately protected?

My Lords, I am satisfied that we are doing absolutely everything to provide all the protection that we can for our helicopters. We have invested upwards of £500 million in force protection across our operations, but we must recognise that those operations are dangerous; they are not risk-free. Despite all the action that we take and the professionalism, skill and bravery of our Armed Forces, they are dangerous operations. However, we are doing everything that we can to ensure the protection of our forces.

My Lords, following up the question of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, surely it is not good enough for the Minister just to say that we are down from 25 to 24 C130Js. This is an operational cost and it is above the attrition rate that was planned when the aircraft were procured. Should not the contingency fund purchase a replacement aircraft?

My Lords, it was not my intention to give that impression; I appreciate the opportunity to clarify that. It is a fleet of 25, and we have lost another C130J; therefore, following the normal procedure of a board of inquiry into this loss, there would be an application to the Treasury to the reserve under the normal procedure of recuperation for an aircraft lost owing to enemy action.

My Lords, why should this wait until after a board of inquiry? Cannot an application for funds be made today?

That is the extant process, my Lords, which has always applied. It is important that lessons are learnt and that a board of inquiry takes place, following which there would be an application.