DEFENCE ministers have admitted that a system which could have prevented a fatal crash between two Tornado jets in Scotland last year was identified in 2008 but not installed because it was too expensive.
In a written answer to SNP MP Angus Robertson, Tory defence equipment minister Philip Dunne said that a collision warning system costing around £60 million for the fighter jets was considered four years before the crash in July last year which claimed three lives and left another RAF crew member severely injured.
Flight Lieutenant Adam Sanders, Squadron Leader Samuel Bailey and Flight Lieutenant Hywel Poole were killed when the two aircraft collided over the Moray Firth.
In his answer Mr Dunne said: “A commercial off-the-shelf traffic collision avoidance system was identified . . . as part of the department’s 2008 annual planning process. Development and manufacture costs of the system were estimated at £59.15m.”
He said that the government decided in January 2012, six months before the crash, to tender for a different system developed by BAe which was £6m cheaper.
The collision warning system is not due to be fixed to Tornados until next year and has been demanded by the RAF in the wake of the tragedy, but two trial aircraft were delivered by BAe in August.
According to other parliamentary answers, the status of the service inquiry “is now complete and a copy of the report has been provided to the procurator fiscal, who determines whether a fatal accident inquiry will be held”.
The Ministry of Defence also confirmed: “A Tornado traffic collision avoidance system has been developed which is expected to achieve initial operating capability by the end of next year.”
SNP Westminster leader and defence spokesman Mr Robertson, whose Moray constituency contains RAF Lossiemouth where the two Tornados had been based, said: “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.”
The SNP has previously raised concerns over the impact of defence cuts on the RAF and questioned whether new equipment has been delayed to save money.
However, the MoD cast doubt on whether the system would have prevented the crash and said that a number of measures are already in place which make accidents extremely rare.
A MoD spokesperson said: “There are already a range of mitigation measures in place to minimise the risk of mid-air collision and tragic incidents such as that in Moray are extremely rare. A specifically designed Tornado collision warning system, which will be another tool for pilots to use, is currently being trialed and will be in service next year.
“Our thoughts remain with the families of Sqn Ldr Sam Bailey, Flt Lt Hywel Poole and Flt Lt Adam Sanders.
“The results of the service inquiry into the crash are being considered by Scotland’s procurator fiscal and therefore, it would be inappropriate to comment further on this case.”