Select Committee on Defence Third Report


The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is making significant changes to its provision of logistics support for front line aircraft. Under the new arrangements, these maintenance lines will be reduced to two: "forward" and "depth".

It is only four years since the Defence Aviation Repair Agency (DARA) was established to provide MoD with a competitive alternative to private industry. During that time, DARA has, by common consent, provided a good service to the RAF and has consistently returned a profit. The Committee's view is that the MoD has contributed to a period of unnecessary turbulence and uncertainty in aviation logistics provision.

For fast jet aircraft (Harrier GR9 and Tornado GR4), depth support will transfer from DARA St Athan, South Wales, where it is carried out largely by civilian tradesmen, to RAF Main Operating Bases where it will be carried out by RAF tradesmen supplemented by tradesmen from the aircraft manufacturer. For rotary wing aircraft (helicopters), depth support will, by contrast, be provided at DARA Fleetlands, Hampshire, by RAF tradesmen and DARA civilian tradesmen. We are concerned that these inconsistent arrangements will not be sustainable over the long term. MoD's rationale for these changes is based on ensuring that RAF manpower is available for crises. It aims to cut costs by removing unnecessary and wasteful duplications of support, and employing modern manufacturing techniques. The new arrangements for support carry risks: the long term sustainability of efficiency programmes; potential over-dependency on industry, and the capability of the RAF's new support processes to meet surge demands.

The DARA Trades Unions assert that there are serious problems with the new arrangements at RAF Marham and RAF Cottesmore including damage to aircraft and inability of the new arrangements to meet surges in demand. MoD denies these claims, and maintains that Harrier GR9 and Tornado GR4 support is being provided in a more efficient and cost effective manner than before. The Committee recommends an independent audit of the Harrier programme and if necessary a delay to the Tornado changes to allow the lessons to be taken into account.

The future of DARA is uncertain: some of its businesses are to be closed down; others are to be market tested. The prospects for the DARA St Athan site, including its recently completed Superhangar facility costing over £100m, are in particular doubt. Seen with the benefit of hindsight, MoD's decision to go ahead with building the Superhangar at DARA St Athan at a time when it was reviewing its logistic support provision was incomprehensible and we recommend an investigation by the National Audit Office and the Wales Audit Office. It was also a clear example of a lack of joined-up Government. But now that the Superhangar with its impressive state-of-the-art facilities has been built, it is vital that MoD works with other government bodies to attract commercial investment there.

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Prepared 18 January 2006