"Defence ministers spurned three separate deals to buy American Black Hawk helicopters which would have helped to plug the dangerous shortage facing British troops in Afghanistan. The most recent rejection came only days ago, the Observer can reveal.
A letter sent last week by the defence equipment minister, Quentin Davies, to Sikorsky, the US manufacturer of the Black Hawk, appears to admit that snubbing its latest offer could delay the introduction of desperately needed helicopters into Afghanistan.
Davies admits that rather than opt for the "earlier acquisition of another helicopter", the government chose to pursue the heavily criticised refit of Britain's ageing Puma fleet.
The minister's letter is dated 7 July, the day trooper Christopher Whiteside, 20, died on foot patrol in Helmand after being hit by a hidden explosive device. Military figures say that lives are being lost in Afghanistan because troops have to travel by land, making them vulnerable to roadside bombs.
...James Arbuthnot, chairman of the defence committee, whose report last week condemned the Puma refit and expressed concern over its "poor survivability" in combat, said: 'The Black Hawks are extremely good, they could be acquired in large numbers and the cost of running them would be low.'" Sure, there are concerns over the public finances and the Government's ability to spend money at the moment; we raise them often enough here on Coffee House. But with defence chiefs asking for more helicopters, and with British troops dying by the day in Afghanistan, it's worrying that the Government is so keen to exercise more time-consuming and less effective options. Especially when they always find a few extra £billion to fund the latest "Save Gordon" scheme.