Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A Brave Mother

I've listened to the recording of Gordon Brown's phone call to Jaqui Janes.

One thing she asks is why are Merlin helicopters still not in Afghanistan. I've blogged on this before and the reason is they're not fit for purpose. They are currently undergoing a huge refit programme to try and bring them up to standard, including as mentioned during the call the fitting of new rotor blades to enable them to fly in the hot and high climate of Afghanistan. I've heard the reports from the training exercises in the U.S. and to say that the Merlin operates "differently" in Afghani-like conditions is a coy euphamism.

Anyone that takes a look at this report on UK helicopter upgrades in Rotor & Wing Magazine will be struck by the huge costs being pumped into upgrading our ageing helicopters (Sea King, Puma and Lynx) and bringing our new ones (Merlin) up to a decent specification in order for them to operate in the hot and high conditions of Afghanistan. One should however, take note at the proposed in-service dates, which are ludicrously some years away. What we need are helicopters fit to fly in Afghanistan NOW, not in 2010, 2013 or beyond.

Its about time the government and the MoD had a healthy dose of realism and started to look at buying helicopters of the correct spec to fly in Afghanistan off the peg. Note the Apache doesn't have any operational problems in that theatre. Neither does the Black Hawk transport helicopter, the type we've been offered by the Americans a number of times but turned down.

What we don't need, is up-engined mongrels only just able to drag their sorry arses off the desert floor, never mind carry a decent payload. Neither do we want complex high-maintenance eurocopters that are never available because they are always breaking down. A failure rate that will only be exacerbated by continuously operating close to maximum payloads for the conditions.

What is clear from the helicopter debacle is that MoD procurement is lagging decades behind our current operational requirements. We have a complement of helicopters designed to operate in a cold war environment, in a temperate climate. We fought our first modern desert war in Iraq in 1990 and 1991 and it appears the MoD still don't have the procurement process tuned into the new battlefield environment almost 2 decades later.

I've said it before that there are plenty of helicopters available around the world with very little lead time that can be in service next year. We could be buying Black Hawks as mentioned, Bell 412s or even Rusian ones. Some battlefield lift capability no matter where it comes from, is better than none.

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