Source: http://news.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=732642005 Cut & Paste form above link: Fifth of Apaches not fit for active service JAMES KIRKUP POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT ALMOST a fifth of the British Army's new Â£2 billion Apache attack helicopter fleet was grounded for repairs within days of entering active service, The Scotsman can reveal. The fact that 11 of the 67 Apache gunships - costing an estimated Â£30 million each - are out of use for repair came as it emerged that large sections of the British military's helicopters are not available for active service due to technical problems. More than a third of the army's Lynx helicopters are either out of service for maintenance or entirely beyond repair. And a quarter of Chinook transport helicopters are undergoing repairs. But it is the revelation of what one army insider describes as "a serious problem" with the Apache force that will most concern defence chiefs. Military chiefs consider the Apache to be at the centrepiece of the army of the future. Laden with weapons and carrying the most sophisticated target-tracking radar of its type, the helicopter was formally unveiled amid much fanfare only last month after a final training exercise by the Army Air Corps. Following Operation Eagles Strike, the Ministry of Defence announced that 16 Air Assault Brigade had been fully trained, tested and exercised as the lead Apache Helicopter Regiment and was now "available for operations". Making the announcement, Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces Minister, described the Apache as "a formidable fighting platform that will improve the army's ability to conduct the hard-hitting land operations of the future". That was on 24 May. But as of 1 June, Ministry of Defence figures show that 11 Apaches were "under repair" and not available for use. The figures came to light after military insiders angered by what they saw as the MoD's "glossing over" of the facts of the Apache squadron raised the issue. While some gunships are grounded for scheduled upgrade work, it is understood that some are unavailable for less desirable reasons, including a lack of routine spare parts. The National Audit Office this month warned that "Joint Helicopter Command is experiencing difficulties with the availability of spares for helicopters which have affected the readiness of some helicopter types". And according to one Royal Air Force source, the army's maintenance crews are struggling to deal with the Apache, described as "technically light years ahead" of any previous army helicopter. "The army just aren't used to looking after something of that level of sophistication - they've got a fairly steep learning curve," said the RAF source. Nor are the problems confined to mechanical work. According to army sources, a senior Army Air Corps pilot this month left an Apache grounded when one its landing wheels became stuck in earth at Wattisham Airfield in Suffolk. The stricken aircraft did not sustain serious damage, but had to be pulled free by a heavy lorry. The helicopter repair figures came to light after Mike Hancock, a Liberal Democrat MP who sat on the Commons defence committee in the last parliament, was contacted by a member of the Army Air Corps about the Apache. Prompted by the insiders' reports of mechanical failure and technical problems, Mr Hancock tabled parliamentary questions on helicopter readiness. "The uncomfortable reality is that the Apache is not easy to maintain - they need expensive and intensive mechanical and technical support," he said.