Helicopter capability - Defence Committee Contents


Those who serve the helicopter fleets of all the Services do a superb job, often under difficult and dangerous circumstances. We have been unfailingly impressed by all UK helicopter personnel whom we have met, for their professionalism, dedication and bravery. Helicopters provide many vital capabilities to the modern Armed Forces, from the movement of troops and equipment around the battlefield to the detection and confrontation of submarines at sea. We were concerned both by the proposed reduction in the size of the fleet, and by the emergence of a 'capability deficit' ahead of the introduction of newer helicopters.

The Ministry of Defence currently plans to extend and sustain the lives of several ageing helicopter types in an attempt to minimise this capability deficit. Given the age of both Sea King and Puma and the poor survivability of the Puma, extending their lives at considerable cost is not the best option, either operationally or in terms of the use of public money. We do not believe that these LEPs will provide adequate capability or value for the taxpayer. Only a procurement of new helicopters can meet the original objective of reducing the number of types of helicopter in service within the UK Armed Forces.

In our Report, we describe how the concept of 'helicopter capability' is built upon the four pillars of manning, equipment, training and support. We were told that, of these, it was the manning pillar that was under the most strain. The opportunity to train for some capabilities, in particular amphibious warfare, has suffered as a result of operational demands. The support structures underpinning helicopters seem actually to be something of a success story, with closer working between the MoD and industry paying dividends in terms of available flying hours—one of the key metrics by which the MoD judges performance in-theatre.

Nevertheless, helicopter capability is being seriously undermined by the shortage of helicopters, particularly medium-lift support helicopters, capable of being deployed in support of operations overseas. We believe that the size of the fleet is an issue, and are convinced that the lack of helicopters is having adverse consequences for operations today and, in the longer term, will severely impede the ability of the UK Armed Forces to deploy.

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Prepared 16 July 2009