Former RAF Lyneham Hercules pilot Nigel Gilbert was one of those who complained about the safety of the aircraft after he was shot at while flying on a mission in Afghanistan. He writes about his campaign to persuade the MoD to fit safety foam into the Hercules fleet before there is another tragedy like the one that killed ten of his friends.

As an experienced Hercules pilot, having served on special operations in both Kosovo and Afghanistan, I was aware, perhaps more than most, of the dangers involved in frontline operations.

My initial concerns were raised during the Kosovo War in 1999 when my American air force colleagues expressed severe reservations about flying unprotected RAF Hercules aircraft in war zones - because all USAF Hercules aircraft were fitted with a full defensive aids suite and enjoyed the additional safeguard of Explosion Suppressant Foam.

ESF prevents the ignition of fuel tank vapours if the tank is punctured by projectiles, bullets or other missiles. The foam fills the cavity left as the fuel tank emptiesd and prevents lethal vapours, that will explode if ignited by a stray bullet, from building up.

This protection has been fitted to USAF aircraft since 1967. Similarly, the Australian Air Force decided to fit the system to their aircraft in 2004. Since the Falklands War requests have been made to the MoD for ESF to be fitted to our aircraft.

In 2002 a presentation was made to the RAF highlighting the benefits of ESF. The cost per aircraft, at that time was $25,000. Needless to say the requests were denied.

Tragically in January 2004 we lost XV179 and all its crew.

The tragedy has been the subject of a Board of Inquiry, which eventually recommended that the RAF urgently look at fitting ESF. The cause of the crash was given with some certainty.

An explosion in a fuel tank in the starboard wing, caused perhaps by one large-calibre bullet, had blown off the outer 23 feet of wing.

The aircraft had immediately become uncontrollable. The BoI, unbelievably, noted that until this crash, the Hercules was considered a robust aircraft not vulnerable to attack from small arms fire.

Compare this with evidence of a similar but more severe attack on an American Hercules which sustained multiple hits in its fuel tank, some 22 months earlier. This aircraft landed safely and was quickly repaired and returned to service.

I was informed that the BoI recommendation to fit foam stalled just weeks after John Reid presented the findings to Parliament.

I decided to honour the men of XV179, many of whom I knew, by publicly highlighting the desperate need for adequate protection for Hercules crews and their passengers in war zones. I wanted to force the MoD to acknowledge its responsibilities and to recognise its negligent approach to risk.

Shortly after the media pressure started it was confirmed that only five K model Hercules would get foam. This was totally unacceptable.

With the support of a number of the bereaved and some former colleagues, we campaigned for more aircraft to be fitted with ESF. I was invited to meet with the RAF transport operational supremo, the Air Officer Commanding No2 Group.

He admitted funding problems and I told him if he sent unprotected Hercules to Afghanistan he would lose more aircraft.

Just three weeks later another Hercules, was destroyed in an explosion on a landing strip in Afghanistan.

Total cost so far £100 million, not counting the lives of a priceless crew.

For the equivalent of 13 of the 3,100 executive chairs in the newly renovated MoD Main Building, a Hercules could have been protected from a fatal AK47 bullet.

The MoD finally relented in 2006 and agreed to fit foam to both old K Model and newer J Mode? Hercules.

It was a J that was destroyed on a strip in Iraq just three weeks ago.

So far, then, three Hercules have been destroyed by enemy action, none of them with fuel tank protection.

But now there are problems with fuel leaks from the newly converted aircraft, and only seven aircraft have been converted out of a fleet of 48.

The result is that Lyneham's crews are still being sent into harms way in flying bombs.

I welcome the frank and fearless investigation promised by the Wiltshire Coroner David Masters.

I am confident he will now establish the truth in this national scandal. I hope he will also consider whether the military BoI system needs modernising.

The failure to introduce foam until media pressure forced the issue highlights its limited power to enforce its own recommendations.

The absence of fuel tank protection is a failure of political and military leadership.

It reinforces the perception that Tony Blair's interventionist foreign policy is being done on the cheap -at the cost of British servicemen's lives.