The grey haired, whey faced Defence Secretary Des"I mumble your weight" Brown, the dynamic Scots solicitor left the announcement of a major future augmentation of the Army's helicopter capacity until all his chums in the House of Comons had broken up for Easter - or for the faithless amongst you, what we must now call the Spring Break.
"14 additional helicopters will become available over the next 2 years for use on military operations (please note the (very) careful wording)."These extra and much needed machines are 6 Augusta Westland Merlins EH 101 originally for supply to Denmark which will be further equipped and will cost a total of £147 Mn with operational enhancements and the "latest generation of advanced rotor-blades which will enhance their speed, range and lift(= £24.5 MN each). This will ensure good performance even in demanding environments like Iraq and Afghanistan." Demark will receive their 6 machines subsequntly , this demonstrates says the exciteable Des, "once more the strong link between our two NATO nations."(Prime Minister Rasmussen announced in February 2007 that most Danish troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by August 2007)
Currently the RAF has 22 EH101 Merlin HC Mk3 helicopters and the Royal Navy 44 EH101 Merlin HM Mk1s, delivery of which was completed in 2002 (£500Mn for 22 = £22.7 Mn each).
It has also been decided to convert 8 existing Chinook Mark 3 helicopters to make them available for deployment in two years at a cost of "around" £50m-£60m.
The Chinook Mk3s were ordered in 1995 for special operations says Des. They were delivered in 2001 but have been unavailable since then due to well reported technical problems.
Just to re-capit as the military johnnies say you might turn to an exchange in the House of Commons November 1st 2005.
Mr. Arbuthnot: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he expects the Chinook Mark 3 helicopter, including the six aircraft delivered to the UK during 2001–02, to enter service before the planned phasing out of the Mark 2 and Mark 2a Chinooks.
Mr. Adam Ingram: (Another fucking Scotsman) The Ministry of Defence is working towards resolving the problems of the eight Chinook Mk 3s. A study last year recommended a 'Fix to Field' solution as the probable best value for money solution. We are working with Boeing to ensure the proposed solution is mature and robust before taking the final decision on whether to proceed. If we do decide to proceed with the 'Fix to Field' solution I anticipate that the aircraft would be in service well before the Chinook Mk 2/2a fleet reaches its out of service date.
For those who savour these private moments in those hidden away committees the following exchange is worthy of mention … Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence 25 OCTOBER 2004 - i.e 3 years ago....
Q133 Chairman: Thank you very much. But the fact remains, Air Vice Marshal, that for safety reasons you cannot fly this helicopter when it is cloudy; is that correct?
Air Vice Marshal Luker: That is also correct.
The bottom line is, 8 Chinook 3’s were ordered from Boeing in 1995. They were tailored to the needs of the SAS and Special Boat Service, with satellite communications technology, extra fuel tanks and in-flight refuelling probes for long flights. (Hence the need for the derring do of the SAS "brave" lads hanging on like aerial circus performers to Apache's to lift a wounded colleague (pic) (Guradian) - portrayed as a Boys Own Paper tale of heroism but actually forced by the dire shortage of equipment that these announcement today will relieve in .... 2-3 years time) - their colleague died.
"8 brand new Chinook HC3s costing £260 million were delivered in 2001 but will be sitting on the ground until 2007,'' said Edward Leigh Chairman of the Public Accouts Committee. "Because of a massively botched job, they cannot be flown when there is a cloud in the sky. The MoD might as well have bought eight turkeys.''
In what Leigh described as "an atrocious oversight'', the ministry had decided to cut costs by refusing to pay for a fully digital cockpit. The result was a compromise that did not match British defence safety standards.
With the extras required to bring them up to British standards and enable them to carry out the tasks for which they are needed wil cost 147 Mn.
Somehow the cost of £127 MN 3 years ago has magically reduced to £50-60 Mn! Of course any costs of conversion will increase because it will only be on undertaking the job that they will discover the levels of cannibalism that will have been gping on, the need to upgrade versions of sensors, software etc., - for which they are at the mercy of Boeing.
Which leaves you nervous that it is the same people who decide whether the UK buy a new nuclear deterrant (remembering the current Trident multiple warheads belong to Uncle Sam).
Finally, who will maintain, fly these beast of the battlefield ? The Armed forces have 40 Boeing Chinook (Mk2 and Mk 2a) and have a major problem both of training pilots and retiaing them as the jobs on ofer for civilian flying are paid at 2/3 times those of military personnel - and they tend not to get shot at.
27 Sqn Chinook HC2s currently operated by the RAF’s 1310 Flight. 6 Chinooks are now positioned at Kandahar. Hot-and- high environmental conditions mean the aircraft are operating “pretty much on the limit of their performance,” says Wg Cdr Dan Startup, officer commanding 1310 Flight, and as temperatures climb to over 40°C (104°F) by mid-year, the aircraft will be forced to carry a reduced payload. However, he notes: “Nothing else can fly throughout the year.”
The vast majority of tasks so far allocated to the RAF’s Chinooks have centred on supporting the establishment of Camp Bastion, and in delivering supplies to the UK task force in Lashkar Gar and Gereshk. Loads have primarily comprised food, water, ammunition and some underslung vehicles. The aircraft do not conduct operations outside Helmand province and have so far not supported any special forces activities, says Startup. One extra Chinook has recently helped out - transferred from the Falklands - let's hope the Argies don't notice.
Des also explains that "..there has been continual work on spares and crewing to increase the number of hours the aircraft can fly per month. Operational commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq have consistently and publicly confirmed that they currently have sufficient support helicopters to do the tasks required, although we can always do more with more. For example, Brigadier Jerry Thomas (Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan) has said, "Our success on operations would not have been possible unless our forces were properly equipped and supplied. To be clear, I have not asked for additional helicopters and the supply system is working well."
Pic shows Lord Patel's personal Merlin EH 101 machine which is the Danish version with the high lift blades clearly showing the downwash deflector plate on the rear fuselage which will be a welcome addition in dusty Helmand - it comes complete with in-flight re-fuelling designed in from the start. Good kit for moving things around
The Merlin is a very advanced machine and 90% percent of the fuselage is made from composite materials for strength and for weight reduction and the aircraft has an excellent redundancy level with some systems triplicated. But like the Osprey this this has complications in battle conditions as fuselage repairs cannot be undertaken with 'O' level metal bashing and structural integrity can easily be compromised even by light arms fire. It has however very high crash survivability and impressive Defensive Aids Suites (DAS) with Northrup Grumman Directed InfraRed Counter Measures (DIRCM) highly effective at protection from heat seeking missiles with further layer of protection from dispensing of chaff and flares. Essential in Helmand.
So that's alright then , all those stories about shortages of spares (especially rotor blades sandblasted by the harshwinds) , pilots, mechanics are all untrue then. Perhaps the HOC Defence Committee (13th report) were talking balls when they noted 19th July 2006.
"we are deeply concerned at the shortage of helicopters in theatre and believe that unless measures are taken to increase the number of helicopters and to reduce pressure on crews, the effectiveness and coherence of UK operations on the ground will suffer."Remarks Des must have seen having been reported in the Scotsman 15/10/06 who also reported ...
Brigadier Ed Butler, outgoing commander of UK forces in the south of the country, said: "If we had more helicopters, we could generate a higher tempo, not just of offensive operations, but also to crack on with reconstruction and development."
Defence Secretary Des Browne has already accepted the general shortage of helicopters and insists the government is "taking steps to deal with this".They also reported a defence spokesman confirming that the British army may be allowed to "borrow" further transport helicopters, expected to be Merlins, designated for Nato allies including Denmark (ordered 14) and Portugal(12). (This was nearly 6 months ago)
14 additional helicopters will become available over the next 2 years for use on military operations (please note the (very) careful wording).
Well up to a point Lord Copper.
Basically we have borrowed 6 Merlins from our Danish friends as they withdraw from Iraq and we finally get to use the Chinooks we ordered in 1995 in 2 years time... at a cost conservatively estimated at "around" £250Mn. Quite what the MOD would use these helicopters for other than military operations defies understanding - ferrying Prince Andrew between Golf courses ?
As 8 of those helicopters have been stuck in a warehouse in Wales since 2001 it begs the question as to whether they represent "additional" machines - of course if you narrow the definition to "battlefield helicopters" as distinct from say "warehoused helicopters" the statement might make some sense. There will be variety of views about the utility of having machines in a warehouse for 8 years before using them. - and apparently this £260 Mn worth of warehoused stock can fly again for £50-60Mn - what the fuck has been holding them back ? (Ouch! £40 Mn a pop for these behemoths)
No wonder he waited until his chums had left for their hols.
(Pic) Chinook Mark 2 Helicopters at work on the Ark Royal at the outset of Desert Storm.