In response to Parliamentary questions from SNP MP for Moray, Angus Robertson, the Ministry of Defence [MoD] has admitted that a commercial collision warning system had been identified as appropriate for the RAF Tornado fast jets in 2008, four four years before two Tornados collided over the Moray Firth in July last year .
The system identified was not installed. Moreover, it appears that it has not yet been installed, in spite of the Moray Firth collision – between two Tornado GR4 jets from RAF Lossiemouth, costing the lives of three RAF crew and serious injury to a fourth.
It looks as if the MoD are hashing up an alternative.
They say: ‘A Tornado traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) has been developed which is expected to achieve initial operating capability by the end of next year’ [Ed: the emphases are ours].
Where is the advantage in going with a system in development which will not be available until at least the end of 2014 – and then only in ‘initial operating capability’ – when, from 2008, there has been a commercial system available which the MoD itself had identified as appropriate?
If something is available that is deemed suitable and relates to the saving of lives at genuine and regular risk of collision, is it not part of the MoD’s duty of care to its servicemen that it gets such kit installed asap?
And what about the Typhoons, the fast jets that supercede the Tornados, based at RAF Leuchars in Fife and RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire? There is no mention of the suitability of the collision warning system still in development for these newer jets. Just how inadequate is the MoD’s planning and procurement?
In respect of the Moray Firth collision, according to the Parliamentary Answers: ‘The status of the Service Inquiry (SI) ‘is now complete and a copy of the report has been provided to the Procurator Fiscal – who determines whether a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) will be held and sets the date. A copy of the report will be placed in the Library of the House following either the completion of a FAI or the Procurator Fiscal’s decision not to hold one.’
Commenting on the information he received, Angus Robertson, whose Moray constituency contains RAF Lossiemouth, says: ‘The findings of the inquiry are now a matter for the Procurator Fiscal and we await confirmation whether a Fatal Accident Inquiry will be held.
‘No doubt the absence of a collision avoidance system in Tornado fast jets will be an important consideration and these parliamentary answers from the Ministry of Defence shed light on the issue.
‘As in all tragic cases which involved the death and injury of service personnel, our thoughts must be with those directly and indirectly affected.
‘Whatever conclusions are reached by the Procurator Fiscal it is imperative that all lessons are learnt from the Tornado collision over the Moray Firth.
‘I know that this has already been a top priority for personnel at RAF Lossiemouth.’
Transcript of the parliamentary questions and answers
Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence :
- when the installation of the traffic collision avoidance system was first recommended for the Tornado fast jet fleet; by whom it was recommended; and how much work has been undertaken to install it to date; 
- what the estimate was of the cost of installing the Traffic Collision Avoidance System on the Tornado fast jet fleet when it was first recommended; and what his latest estimate is on the cost of that installation. 
Mr Dunne [Ed: Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology]: A commercial off the shelf traffic collision avoidance system was identified as a potential solution to the Department’s requirement for a collision warning system on the Tornado GR4 fast jet fleet by the Deep Target Attack Capability Sponsor as part of the Department’s 2008 annual planning process. Development and manufacture costs of the system were estimated at £59.15 million.
In January 2012 the Investment Approvals Committee considered a submission on a collision warning system for Tornado GR4 and directed the project to proceed to Main Gate. Approval for the installation of a traffic collision avoidance system on the Tornado GR4 fast jet at a cost of £53.46 million was given in October 2012. The current forecast for this activity remains at £53.46 million.
Following contract award with BAE Systems in December 2012, detailed design on the installation of the traffic collision avoidance system on the Tornado GR4 began. Two aircraft were delivered to BAE Systems, Warton in August 2013 for the trial installation of the modification. The first of these aircraft will commence ground trials in February 2014 and flight trials during March/April 2014. The programme remains on track to meet its in service date by the end of December 2014.
Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will place in the Library a copy of the Board of Inquiry’s findings into the collision of two Tornado jets on 3 July 2012 over the Moray Firth. 
Mr Francois [Ed: Armed Forces Minister]: The service inquiry into this accident is now complete and a copy of the report has been provided to the Procurator Fiscal, who determines whether a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) will be held and sets the date. A copy of the report will be placed in the Library of the House following either the completion of a FAI or the Procurator Fiscal’s decision not to hold one.
Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence which military aircraft the traffic collision avoidance system have installed. 
Mr Dunne: The following military aircraft are fitted with an aircraft collision avoidance system (ACAS):
C-17, C-130, A400M, Tristar, Hawk TMk2, King Air, Grob Tutor, E-3D Sentry, Bae 146, Bae 125, Shadow, Sentinel, Airseeker, Voyager, Avenger T Mk1, Defender, Islander(1), Tucano, Squirrel, Griffin HT Mk1.
(1) Depending on Mk, some still to be fitted
In addition, contracts have been placed for the following aircraft to be fitted with an ACAS:
Griffin HAR Mk2, Wildcat HMAMk2, Dauphin N2, Lynx 9a, Wildcat AH Mk1, Dauphin N3.
A Tornado traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) has been developed which is expected to achieve initial operating capability by the end of next year.
Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the standard operating procedure is for activating the traffic collision avoidance system for RAF aircraft in (a) combat and (b) training missions. 
Mr Dunne: The standard operating procedure for all RAF aircraft fitted with an Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS) is for it to be switched on prior to take-off and not switched off until after landing. There is no variation from these procedures while on operations.
The only exceptions are during Air-to-Air Refuelling and close formation flying involving ACAS equipped aircraft, where the operating procedures require the leader of the formation to retain normal operation of the ACAS while the remaining formation elements switch ACAS to standby. This also allows the combination of aircraft to be considered as a single unit.