A MID-AIR crash which killed three RAF crew could have been avoided if the Tornados involved had been fitted with collision avoidance systems, an official investigation is due to conclude today.
The reported finding of the Military Aviation Authority (MAA) comes days before the second anniversary of the Moray Firth collision between the two ground attack aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth.
Flight Lieutenant Adam Sanders, Squadron Leader Samuel Bailey and Flight Lieutenant Hywel Poole were killed in the crash. A fourth crewman, Squadron Leader Paul Evans, was badly injured.
It was revealed in February that the safety system was cancelled by the UK Government in 2010 against MAA advice, 12 years after defence chiefs committed to installing it.
Then, six months before the 2012 crash, ministers decided to tender for a different system, which was £6 million cheaper than the original £60m scheme.
The MAA report, which was completed last year, is reported to be highly critical of the RAF for repeatedly delaying and then cancelling installation of the system.
The main recommendation among 50 in the report is said to be the urgent fitting of the collision avoidance equipment.
The RAF has said this is now due to be completed for its Tornado GR4 fleet by the end of the year.
The report is also said to encourage the RAF to fit such systems to all its fast jets, such as the Typhoon, which will eventually replace the Tornado and is also based at RAF Lossiemouth.
The MAA had previously warned that, without installation of the system, it would not be able to certify the risk of collision as being “acceptable”.
SNP defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MP, whose Moray constituency includes RAF Lossiemouth, yesterday repeated his call for a fatal accident inquiry into the crash.
The MP, whose freedom of information request revealed the previous equipment cancellation, said: “The report is a terrible indictment of the way the MoD care about personnel.
“It is scandalous the MoD committed to a Tornado collision warning system in 1998, bizarrely cancelled it 12 years later, then changed its mind – but it was all far too late to potentially avert the fatal crash in 2012.
“It is imperative all lessons are learnt from the Tornado collision, and I know this has been a top priority for personnel at RAF Lossiemouth. It is pressing that there is a fatal accident inquiry.”
A Crown Office spokesman said: “The procurator fiscal has received a report in connection with the deaths of three men, aged 27, 28 and 36, over the Moray Firth on 3 July, 2012.
“The investigation into these deaths, under the direction of Scottish fatalities investigation unit, is ongoing, and the families will continue to be kept updated in relation to any significant developments.”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence confirmed the report would be published today but said it would not be commenting in advance.
It has previously said a “range of mitigation measures” were in place to minimise the risk of a mid-air collision.
These are “extensive professional air crew training, use of ‘indication friend or foe’, internal radar for tracking other aircraft, ground-based radar and air traffic services”.
A series of near misses involving Tornados have been assessed as category A, where an “actual risk of collision existed”.
They include a Tornado coming within 30ft of a Typhoon during a night-time mid-air refuelling exercise with a VC10 tanker off northern England in January 2012.
Two Tornados crossed 200ft apart at the same altitude during a night-time low-flying exercise near Galashiels in the Borders in September 2010.
In an incident three months earlier, investigators said it had been “purely fortuitous” there had been any space between two Tornados when they crossed in Glen Spean, near Fort William.