Royal Navy's Crowsnest system delayed after contractors left helicopter to rust in the rain

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A DEFENCE contractor has said it ‘regrets’ an oversight which caused a three-month delay to the Royal Navy’s new airborne radar system.

Flights for the navy’s £269m Crowsnest system had to be suspended after workers left a helicopter to rust in the rain.

The news was revealed in the latest report into the UK’s aircraft carrier project by the Whitehall spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO).

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Investigators discovered a Merlin helicopter, loaned to Italian-based contractor Leonardo for trials in Boscombe, had been deemed unsafe to fly because engineers forgot to treat it with weather-proof paint.

A Merlin helicopter pictured with the Crownest system fitted underneath it. Photo: Lockheed MartinA Merlin helicopter pictured with the Crownest system fitted underneath it. Photo: Lockheed Martin
A Merlin helicopter pictured with the Crownest system fitted underneath it. Photo: Lockheed Martin

The NAO also claimed that contractors failed to do any maintenance on the vehicle.

‘The helicopter needed for trials, which was the responsibility of Leonardo Helicopters, had received insufficient care during outdoor storage, leaving it unsuitable for flying,’ the NAO said.

‘It needed substantial maintenance to make it airworthy for flight trials and, instead, will be used for testing.

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‘The navy has reassigned Merlin helicopters to support the flight trials but, in doing so, reduced its fleet availability.

‘The compressed timeline and accelerated activity for testing Crowsnest has also created additional pressure on the provision of Merlin spare parts.’

A spokesman for Leonardo told The Sun newspaper it ‘regrets the incident’.

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The situation is the latest in series of setbacks to blight the new hi-tech radar system.

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The radar, which is retrofitted to a Merlin helicopter, is now about 18 months behind schedule, the NAO said.

The kit is a key line of defence for Portsmouth-based aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, helping to act as an early warning system against aerial threats.

There are now concerns the kit will not be ready when the £3.1bn warship sets off on her maiden voyage in early 2021.

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Britain’s former top sailor, Admiral Lord Alan West told The News he was frustrated by the setback and added: ‘There needs to be some serious kicking of those responsible for the delay.’

The Ministry of Defence said it was ‘committed to investing’ in Britain’s carrier strike capability, which includes Crowsnest.

A spokesman added: ‘We are working to ensure that Crowsnest delivers a credible baseline capability in time to support the HMS Queen Elizabeth’s inaugural operational deployment next year.’

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