Helicopter capability - Defence Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Our inquiry

1.  Our visit to Middle Wallop and Yeovilton proved invaluable and we record our thanks to all those involved. Our discussions that day have informed our oral evidence sessions, and indeed, this Report. (Paragraph 2)

Why helicopters?

2.  Helicopters provide many vital capabilities to the modern Armed Forces and, with the challenge of hybrid warfare, are becoming increasingly relevant to current and contingent operations. Their status as force-multipliers lends further weight to their value. They are a cost-effective means of increasing the operational impact of other force elements and therefore, of operational capability generally. As such, it is essential that the fleet should be 'fit for purpose', both in terms of quality and quantity. (Paragraph 5)

Helicopters in the UK Armed Forces

3.  Significant improvements have been made to the availability of key assets such as Chinook. However, in the longer term, increased availability will be no substitute for additional capacity. Adequate capability is also a question of numbers of airframes. (Paragraph 11)

What is more?

4.  We do not believe that the question of helicopter capability can be properly answered without reference to the size of the fleet. We are concerned that operational commanders in the field today are unable to undertake potentially valuable operations because of the lack of helicopters for transportation around the theatre of operations. We are also concerned that operational commanders find they have to use ground transport, when helicopter lift would be preferred, both for the outcome and for the protection of our forces. Furthermore, we are troubled by the forecast reduction in numbers of medium and heavy lift battlefield helicopters, which will make this worse. We have an additional concern in respect of the apparent lack of training that is taking place for amphibious operations. (Paragraph 21)


5.  While we are grateful to the Minister for raising with us his uncertainties about the decision to extend the life of Puma, we do not feel that we were given the full picture on this issue by other witnesses. We very much regret this. (Paragraph 28)

6.  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. (Paragraph 30)


7.  We welcome the Minister's assurance that he is committed to minimising the difference between the equipment standards on an Apache in the UK and an Apache in Helmand. The MoD should commit to making training aircraft as close to the theatre-entry standard as is affordable, and we realise that this might be achieved by fitting improved systems on training aircraft in the United Kingdom or by teaching key pilotage techniques on unmodified aircraft. (Paragraph 35)

8.  We were concerned to hear from industry that the Defence Industrial Strategy, so far as it relates to helicopters, needs to be 'picked up and moved forward again'. The loss of momentum in relation to the Defence Industrial Strategy may lead to significant acquisitions in this sector taking place without sufficient reference to the DIS. This would be regrettable if it prevented greater rationalisation of helicopter types for the reasons we set out above. We urge the MoD to avoid this if at all possible. (Paragraph 38)

9.  On support, closer working between the military and industry through IOS and TLCM programmes is clearly the way forward. We were impressed by the reports we had from companies of CONDO operations, particularly with regard to their consequences for process improvement and cost effectiveness through early interventions. We encourage the MoD to capitalise upon lessons learned from the success of the Chinook Through Life Capability Service programme. (Paragraph 41)

10.  The urgent action being taken within the MoD to improve the acquisition and delivery of spares to all helicopters in theatre needs to be given top priority. (Paragraph 43)


11.  Operations in Afghanistan have now been made the highest priority, what is known as a 'campaign footing', but this has stretched the manning of the helicopter fleet. It is therefore unfeasible to surge helicopters into theatre. Joint Helicopter Command is to be commended for its efforts in delivering trained manpower to the front line, and then giving personnel sufficient time to do all the things at home that enable them to go back for repeat tours. However, we believe it essential that the parent Services examine the basic manning levels to enable personnel from all three Services to be deployed and rested on an equitable basis. (Paragraph 46)


12.  Increased joint working between the three Services has shown benefits in the same way that increasingly close working between the military and industry has done. We recommend that the MoD presses ahead with its programmes to consolidate and make more common the various schemes in place for training helicopter air and ground crew. The MoD should take steps to eliminate the time lag between delivery of UORs in theatre and the upgrading of equipment at home. In this respect, it is unacceptable for personnel to encounter new equipment for the first time in theatre. (Paragraph 49)

Towards a Strategic Defence Review

13.  We welcome the Government's announcement of a strategic review of defence, the need for which has long been apparent. The case for better resourcing of helicopters has however, already been made clear. The MoD should not use the announcement of the strategic review to delay the important decision which needs to be taken in relation to the acquisition of the Future Medium Helicopter, albeit on a modified off-the-shelf basis. The time has come to appreciate fully the role of helicopters in modern operations. We expect the Government to stop equivocating over the separate concepts of 'capability', 'capacity', and 'availability'. The MoD should seize the opportunity to recognise the importance of helicopters to current and contingent operations, and work towards strengthening all aspects of capability: the number of helicopters in the fleet, the support structure that underpins their operations, manning, both in the air and on the ground, and finally, the training for the full spectrum of capabilities described by the review itself. (Paragraph 51)

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 16 July 2009