Helicopter capability - Defence Committee Contents

Memorandum from the Ministry of Defence

  This memorandum provides evidence in the four areas sought by the House of Commons Defence Committee:

    — Current and future size and structure of the helicopter fleet

    — Current procurement and maintenance projects

    — The support structure underpinning helicopter operations

    — The role played by helicopters on operations

  Given the classification of the information relating to the role played by helicopters on operations, this section is of necessity provided in strict confidence in a separate classified annex and should not be disclosed outside the Committee.

  As with much of the MoD's business, the world of helicopter capability is littered with acronyms and complex terms and so an annex of acronyms and a glossary of terms will be provided to accompany this memorandum.


  1.1.  Helicopters are operated by all three Armed Services in a variety of roles ranging from UK Search and Rescue to battlefield support in Afghanistan to global maritime patrol. Altogether, the MoD's helicopter fleet consists of 586 aircraft, comprising eight models broken down into 19 marks (Mk).

  1.2.  As with all equipment capabilities, the Department plans its current and future helicopter force structures on the basis of an assessment of the capability required to undertake those military tasks and operational scenarios for which it is assessed helicopter capability will be required to achieve military success. Helicopters do not provide a singular capability and can be utilised in a wide range of roles. For that reason, the Department's helicopter capability requirements are broken out into more detail. In some instances a particular helicopter platform may be able to support several different capability requirements. In addition, the need to provide helicopter capability in both the maritime and battlefield environments has a bearing on the specific capabilities and performance characteristics that may be required of a platform to cope with the particular challenges of an environment. MoD's helicopter capability requirements include:

    (a) Support Helicopters—required in both maritime and battlefield environments, this capability relates to the movement of personnel and equipment. MoD's Support Helicopter fleet is categorised according to the aircraft's Maximum All Up Mass (MAUM)[6] in either Light, Medium Lift or Heavy Lift classes. While there is no universal definition of the boundaries between these classes, the Department routinely defines the Medium class as being between about 7 tonnes and 16 tonnes MAUM.

(i)Heavy Lift—the only helicopter in the MoD's inventory capable of providing this capability in either the battlefield or maritime domain is the Chinook

(ii)Medium Lift—In the maritime domain, this role can be performed by the Merlin Mk1 and the Sea King Mks 4 and 6. In the battlefield domain, this role is currently met by the Merlin Mk 3/3a, the Sea King Mk 4 and Puma

    (iii) Light—In the maritime domain this role is currently performed by the Lynx Mks 3 and 8. In the battlefield domain it is performed by the Lynx Mks 7 and 9

    (b) Find and Attack—required in both the maritime and battlefield domains, the Find function relates to the ability to locate enemy or friendly forces. In the battlefield domain it is most often referred to as armed reconnaissance, while in the maritime domain it is known as armed maritime patrol. The Attack function is also required in both domains and relates to the ability to then prosecute the target. Anti-Surface Warfare and Anti-Submarine Warfare both fall under the Find and Attack function. In the maritime domain, MoD's Find and Attack helicopters are the Lynx Mks 3 and 8, the Merlin Mk 1 and the Sea King Mk 7, in the battlefield domain they are the Apache, the Gazelle and the Lynx Mks 7 and 9.

    (c) Search and Rescue—this provides a peacetime capability to extract personnel to safety. It is a capability that can be delivered in both sea and land environments, but it is important to note that the UK does not have a dedicated Combat Search and Rescue capability. The MoD's UK-based Search and Rescue helicopters are the Sea King Mks 3/3a and 5.

  1.3.  Each of the Armed Services commands helicopter crews and airframes in order to fulfil the military tasks they are required to support. Command structures are covered in more detail in Section 4.


  1.4.  The Royal Navy requires helicopters that are able to operate in the maritime environment, requiring the airframes to be specifically built to cope with salt corrosion (sometimes referred to as being marinised) and to be able to embark for operations to provide ships and task forces with an organic capability (sometimes referred to as being ship-optimised). The Royal Navy's primary requirement is for Find and Attack capability, although its helicopters also fulfil secondary roles providing support and Search and Rescue capabilities.

  1.5.  The principal role of the Lynx Mks 3 and 8 and the Merlin Mk 1 is maritime patrol, including Anti-Submarine and Anti-Surface Warfare. The Lynx Mks 3 and 8 are utilised primarily to conduct Anti-Surface Warfare although they can also be used for Anti-Submarine Warfare and Maritime Counter-Terrorism operations. The Merlin Mk 1 is the primary asset to conduct Anti-Submarine Warfare although it too can provide an Anti-Surface Warfare capability. It can also provide a Medium Lift capability and can fulfil a limited Search and Rescue function. In the North Arabian Gulf, the Merlin Mk 1 performs oil platform protection, while embarked (ship-borne) Merlin and Lynx are engaged in a range of counter-narcotics, counter-piracy and counter-terrorism operations in the Caribbean and Mediterranean and off the coast of both Iraq and the Horn of Africa. Alongside these Standing Overseas Commitments, Merlin and Lynx aircraft are carried by Royal Navy ships on deployment around the world. The Sea King Mk 7 Airborne Surveillance and Control helicopter can also be carried aboard Royal Navy ships and is used to provide early detection and prosecution of enemy aircraft. It also provides over the horizon targeting for surface launched weapon systems against other surface targets and to provide airspace control. In the near-term, however, the Department is considering deploying this sophisticated surveillance capability to Afghanistan.

  1.6.  Royal Navy helicopters also operate in support of the Royal Marine Commandos. The Commando Helicopter Force consists of the Sea King Mk 4 and Mk 6c Medium Lift helicopters and the Lynx Mk 7 Light Helicopter, which is an Army asset operated by both the Army Air Corps (AAC) and the Commando Helicopter Force. While capable of operating in purely land-based roles, the Sea King Mk 4 has traditionally provided a littoral manoeuvre (ship-to-shore transport) capability and Lynx Mk 7 has provided force protection and reconnaissance, both in support of 3 Commando Brigade. The Sea King Mk 4 is now deployed in Afghanistan on an enduring basis and its roles include troop transportation, while the Commando Helicopter Force's Lynx Mk 7 has been providing a multi-role battlefield Light Helicopter in turn with AAC-operated Lynx. The Sea King Mk 6c is a modified aircraft providing temporary training support to the Commando Helicopter Force. They will be retired from service next year.

  1.7.  For Search and Rescue the Royal Navy utilises the Sea King Mk 5.


  1.8.  The Army's helicopter capability is provided by the AAC and takes the form of battlefield helicopters.

  1.9.  The AAC's helicopter capabilities are concentrated on delivering the Find and Attack functions, although they also provide limited troop transportation and command support roles. The Lynx Mks 7 and 9 are Light Helicopters which perform several battlefield roles on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan including reconnaissance, direction and control of fires, limited troop transportation and command support. Lynx can also provide Manned Airborne Surveillance which augments other Intelligence Surveillance Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) platforms such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as part of the integrated ISTAR matrix.

  1.10.  The AAC operates the Apache Attack Helicopter which has taken over the primary helicopter attack role from Lynx. Equipped with Hellfire missiles, CVR7 rockets and a 30mm cannon, it also has sophisticated surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. It has provided crucial support to ground forces in Afghanistan since 2006.

  1.11.  The Gazelle Light Helicopter continues to be operated by the AAC in certain specialist capabilities. It can be considered a battlefield helicopter, however, it lacks Defensive Aids Suites and is no longer deployed on overseas operations. The vast majority have been withdrawn from service but a limited number of Gazelles continue to fulfil an operational role in the UK and also support to training in Canada.

  1.12.  The Army also operates commercially owned helicopters which provide support to training in Belize and Brunei. These are not considered to be within the scope of this memorandum.


  1.13.  The RAF provides battlefield helicopter and Search and Rescue capabilities.

  1.14.  The RAF's battlefield helicopter capability is focused on the provision of Medium and Heavy Lift. The Puma and the Merlin Mk 3/3a helicopters provide Medium Lift capability while the Chinook Mk 2/2a provides Heavy Lift support. The Merlin Mk 3 and the Puma are currently providing support to operations in Iraq. The Merlin Mk 3 will redeploy to Afghanistan as soon as practicable following the completion of its mission in Iraq; the Puma will remain in Iraq principally to provide a transport role for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in the Baghdad area, but it is likely to be deployed to Afghanistan to replace the Royal Navy Sea King Mk 4 in the medium-term. The Chinook Mk 2/2a is committed to essential Heavy Lift support to operations in Afghanistan and Very High Readiness contingency operations in the UK. Routinely, RAF Chinook helicopters also embark to meet Heavy Lift requirements for littoral manoeuvre operations. The RAF will also begin to receive the first of eight reverted Chinook Mk 3 helicopters at the end of this year.

  1.15.  The RAF's Search and Rescue Helicopters are the Sea King Mk 3 and Mk 3a. Their primary function is provision of Search and Rescue capability in the UK and the Falkland Islands.

  1.16.  The RAF operates other helicopters including those of 32 Squadron, in a communications role, and Search and Rescue helicopters assigned to the Joint Operating Base on Cyprus. These aircraft are not owned by the MoD and are not considered within the scope of this memorandum.


  1.17.  The MoD provided a detailed table in its memorandum to the Committee for the Defence Equipment Enquiry in late 2008 which set out which helicopters fleets the Department operates, the numbers and the planned out of service dates (OSDs). This table has been updated and reproduced at the end of this section as Table 1 to provide a full and comprehensive summary of MoD's current helicopter capabilities. It provides a breakdown of the 586 aircraft currently in the military helicopter fleet, excluding helicopters that the Department operates but does not own, and sets out the respective OSDs. The table excludes leased helicopters and the eight Chinook Mk 3 helicopters undergoing reversion.

  1.18.  Helicopter numbers are set out in three columns: the MoD's Departmental Fleet, the Effective Fleet and the Non-Effective fleet. These terms are defined as:

    (a) MoD Departmental Fleet—all MoD owned aircraft currently on the Military Register. This includes all "effective" and "non-effective" aircraft.

    (b) Effective Fleet—those aircraft expected to be flown by the Armed Services. This includes all aircraft in Forward and Depth. Depth includes Depth maintenance and repair, those undergoing modification, trials aircraft (other than manufacturers'), storage (including attrition/reserves) and surplus aircraft awaiting classification as "non-effective".

    (c) Non-effective Fleet—Aircraft no longer expected to be flown by the Armed Services. Aircraft still on the Military Register that have been declared surplus and are awaiting disposal, plus Ground Instructional Aircraft. 62 of the 586 helicopters are categorised as non-effective.

Figure 1


  1.19.  The Department plans to carry out Life Extension Programmes (LEPs) to extend the OSDs of several of its helicopters. Where an LEP is planned, the resulting extended OSD is set out in brackets in the Current Planned OSD column of Table 1. It is important to note though that these are planning assumptions which remain subject to approval from the Department's Investment Approvals Board.

  1.20.  MoD also expects to complete a number of helicopter procurement programmes in the next decade. The capabilities currently provided by the Lynx and Gazelle fleet will be provided by Future Lynx[7] from the middle of the next decade, the Sea King Mks 3/3A and 5 will be replaced under a Private Finance Initiaitive (PFI) for Search and Rescue and the first tranche of the Future Medium Helicopter capability should also be introduced in this timescale. In addition the eight Chinook helicopters reverted from Mk 3 standard to the Mk 2/2A standard are also not included in the table but will have been introduced into service.

  1.21.  As with all Defence programmes, it is not until Main Gate approval has been obtained that decisions such as the final aircraft numbers, the timescales for the upgrades and the revised OSDs are confirmed. As such, the information provided in Table 1 is susceptible to change and the Department cannot be precise about the number and type of helicopters that will be in service in the medium-term. It is also important to recognise that MoD's delivery of capability (which may include Contracting for Availability—see Section 2) is the primary measure of success and so a focus on overall numbers alone can be misleading.


  1.22.  Over the next ten years, the overall the size of the helicopter fleet will reduce. This is principally due to: changes in the way the Department delivers battlefield capabilities, which are leading to a restructuring of the Light Helicopter component; the intention to replace the Sea King Search and Rescue capability with a joint PFI in partnership with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency; and to improvements and changes in technology and support solutions (see Section 2) which allow us to provide greater capability with fewer helicopters or through the use of other assets such as UAVs. The configuration of the Department's future helicopter fleet is driven by an assessment of the optimum mix of platforms (both helicopters and other non-rotary platforms) to meet capability requirements.


  1.23.  MoD currently owns 91 Gazelle Light Helicopters with an OSD of 2012. As has already been explained, the Gazelle is an older aircraft with limited capability and, whilst it was originally operated as a battlefield helicopter, it is no longer deployed on operations overseas and its former communications and ISTAR role is being performed on operations by other helicopter and non-rotary wing assets. There is therefore no overarching requirement to replace the Gazelle fleet as a whole with another rotary wing fleet. Where there is a residual requirement to do so, the Department is assessing the best way to continue to deliver capabilities currently provided by Gazelle aircraft in the UK.

  1.24.  MoD also currently operates 176 Lynx Light Helicopters, 108 in the battlefield role and 68 in the maritime role. The Department is replacing these aircraft with 62 Future Lynx, 34 in the battlefield role in 2014 and 28 in the maritime role in 2015. This reduction is partly a result of the considerable increase in capability which Future Lynx will provide over current Lynx in terms of its projected availability rates, its performance in hot and high conditions and its sensor fit. In addition the development of a common aircraft build standard and training and support arrangements for both Royal Navy and Army variants will give the Future Lynx fleet greater versatility and flexibility including an ability to move aircraft, by changing role equipment, between the two roles. Importantly, there has also been a change to the capability requirement. Ten years ago, Army Lynx provided ground attack as well as surveillance and reconnaissance. Now ground attack is principally conducted by the Apache Attack Helicopter and the Armed Forces have benefited from a huge growth in the availability of UAVs which have reduced the requirement for helicopter-borne surveillance and reconnaissance. While in the maritime domain, helicopter numbers are in part a reflection of the ships they are required to support.


  1.25.  Under current plans the Department expects to replace the Search and Rescue capability provided by its 40 Sea King Mks 3/3a and Mk 5 helicopters with a joint PFI service with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Whilst the helicopters provided by this service will be manned partly by military aircrew, the platforms themselves will not be owned by the MoD.

Table 1


Aircraft type/mark MoD Departmental FleetEffective Fleet Non-Effective FleetCurrent
Planned OSDs
Agusta 109 44 NIL2009It is expected these aircraft will be replaced during 2009.
Apache 6767 NIL2030MoD expects to have to invest further in this aircraft (eg to address obsolescence and meet emerging requirements) during the next decade, in order to sustain its service life up to 2030.
Chinook Mk 23434 NIL2015 (2040)MoD expects to have to invest further in these aircraft (eg to address obsolescence, to meet emerging requirements and to extend the date of their retirement to 2040) during the next decade, although no investment decisions have yet been made.
Chinook Mk 2a 66 NIL2025 (2040)
Gazelle 91 56 35
(see note 1)
2012 Where there is an enduring requirement for the capability currently provided by Gazelle, MoD is exploring arrangements based on leased aircraft.
Lynx Mk 334 29
(see note 2)
52013It is expected that these aircraft will be replaced by the maritime variant of Future Lynx from 2015.
Lynx Mk 8 3433 12015
Lynx Mk 78474 102013It is expected that these aircraft will be replaced by the battlefield variant of Future Lynx from 2014.
Lynx Mk 92422 22013
Merlin Mk 14242
(see note 3)
NIL2029MoD is currently preparing to upgrade 30 (see note 4) of these aircraft through the Merlin Mk1 Capability Sustainment Programme.
Merlin Mk 32222 NIL2030MoD expects to have to invest further in this aircraft (eg to address obsolescence and meet emerging requirements) during the next decade, in order to sustain its service life up to 2030.
Merlin Mk 3a66 NIL2030
Puma4334 9
(see note 5)
MoD expects to have to invest further in this aircraft to extend its out of service date. The Department anticipates that the planned upgrade will extend the service life of Puma to 2022 or beyond. The capability provided by these aircraft will be replaced by the Future Medium Helicopter Programme.
Sea King Mk 3/3a2525 NIL2017It is expected that the capability provided by these aircraft will be replaced by a joint PFI service with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
Sea King Mk 43737 NIL2012 (2018)MoD expects to have to invest further in this aircraft to extend the planned date of their retirement to 2018, whereupon it is expected that the capability provided by these aircraft will be replaced by the Future Medium Helicopter Programme.
Sea King Mk 6c55 NIL2010
Sea King Mk 51515 NIL2017It is expected that the capability provided by these aircraft will be replaced by a joint PFI service with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
Sea King Mk 71313 NIL2018 (2022)MoD expects to have to invest further in this aircraft to extend the planned date of their retirement to 2022.


  Note 1:  The Non-effective fleet currently includes 30 aircraft for disposal and five ground training aircraft.

  Note 2:  Since the last report one Lynx Mk 3 has moved from Effective to Non-effective

  Note 3:  Four of these aircraft are in storage and have been cannibalised heavily; one has been extensively modified as part of a joint MoD/Industry technology demonstrator programme. Recovery to a fully serviceable condition would take significant time and investment. These aircraft are, under today's definitions, classified as effective until such time that a decision is taken to dispose of them.

  Note 4:  The Department reviewed its investment plans across a number of capability areas during 2008; this review was known as The Equipment Examination. As a result, the Department has determined that, given current defence priorities, it would not take up an option to modify an additional eight Merlin Mk1 aircraft and that its contractual commitment would remain at 30 aircraft. The Department is currently exploring whether the Department has further use for those aircraft not being modified under the Merlin Capability Sustainment Programme, they will otherwise be disposed of in the most cost effective way (including consideration of sales opportunities.)

  Note 5:  The Non-effective fleet include five "Category 5" plus four "Category 4" damaged helicopters not expected to fly again as Puma Mk 1 aircraft.


  (weapons fit, crew numbers and performance may vary dependent on role and operating environment)


  2.1.  To deliver the helicopter capabilities which the Armed Services will require, MoD intends to carry out a mix of Life Extension and Sustainment programmes on a number of its current fleets as well as procurement projects to deliver new capabilities. The Department is planning to invest around £6 billion in helicopters over the next 10 years, comprising approximately £2.5 billion in enhancements to the current helicopter fleet (both to improve their capability and to sustain their in-service lives) and approximately £3.5 billion in procuring new capabilities.


  2.2.  Table 1 in Section 1 highlights the Department's intention to invest in work on several of its current fleets either to extend the service life or to ensure that the platform can meet its expected service life.

  2.3.  In some instances the work MoD is required to carry out is to sustain the platform to its expected OSD by addressing obsolescence caused by advances in technology and ensuring the continued safety and airworthiness of the aircraft. For instance, the Department might need to replace electronic components that are no longer supportable given the rate of technological advance in this area and might take advantage of improvements in areas such as Defensive Aids Suites. The Department is currently carrying out a Sustainment Programme for the Merlin Mk 1 aircraft which is due to go out of service in 2029. MoD also intends to carry out sustainment programmes for the Apache, the Sea King Mk 7 and the Merlin Mk 3.

  2.4.  In other instances the Department plans to carry out LEPs where it assesses there is scope on value for money grounds to extend the expected OSD of a platform type. These programmes often amount to a significant upgrade of a platform type, for which a significant engineering overhaul of the platform is required. The Department is planning to undertake a number of LEPs, including on Chinook where it is assessing the best way to ensure that the military Heavy Lift capability is retained through to 2040. It should be noted that these programmes have not yet been approved under the Department's investment approvals process. The programmes closest to their main investment decision point are:

    (a) Puma LEP— This programme will upgrade several elements of the Puma Mk 1 aircraft, including the engines and avionics. The resulting Puma Mk 2 aircraft will be a significantly more capable aircraft which it is assessed will remain in service into the early 2020s at which point it is expected to be replaced under the Future Medium Helicopter (battlefield lift) Programme.

    (b) Sea King Mk 4 LEP—This is a limited programme to extend the life of the Royal Navy Sea King Mk 4 which will address obsolescence, safety and legislative requirements. It will also incorporate modifications to improve performance in the environmental conditions and altitudes experienced in Afghanistan through the addition of Carson main rotor blades and a five-blade tail rotor, and the provision of a Bowman communications capability. It is anticipated that these measures will enable MoD to extend the OSD of Sea King Mk 4 to 2018 at which point it will, under current plans, be replaced by the Future Medium Helicopter (littoral manoeuvre).

  2.5.  The "Medium-Term Helicopter Capability" diagram provided at Enclosure 1 to this section provides an indicative timeframe for Life Extension and Sustainment Programmes.

  2.6.  Beyond formal Life Extension and Sustainment Programmes, MoD routinely carries out minor modifications to its platforms to deliver capability enhancements. These might, for instance, include new safety measures.


  2.7.  Over the next decade the Department intends to carry out two significant procurement programmes: Future Lynx and the Future Medium Helicopter.


  2.8.  The Future Lynx Programme is on contract and will deliver a new Light Helicopter for the Royal Navy and the Army mid-next decade to replace current Lynx helicopters. The Royal Navy variant of Future Lynx will provide an agile maritime capability providing Anti-Surface Warfare capability and force protection and will operate in support of littoral manoeuvre. They will be an important element of ship defence against surface threats and can carry out an Anti-Submarine role, as well as acting as a light utility helicopter. The Army variant of Future Lynx will perform a range of tasks on the battlefield including reconnaissance, command and control, the transportation of troops and materiel, and the provision of force protection. MoD is procuring 62 Future Lynx, 34 in the battlefield role entering service in 2014 and 28 in the maritime role entering service in 2015.


  2.9.  The Future Medium Helicopter Programme is expected to meet two requirements, a Medium Lift helicopter to support littoral manoeuvre, replacing the capability currently provided by the Royal Navy Sea King Mk 4 operated by the Commando Helicopter Force, and a Medium Lift helicopter to replace the capability currently provided by the RAF Puma battlefield helicopter. MoD's planning assumptions are that entry into service of the Future Medium Helicopter (littoral) will be timed to be coherent with the retirement of Sea King Mk 4, with Future Medium Helicopter (battlefield) entering service in the early 2020s.


  2.10.  The Search and Rescue Helicopter PFI strategy was announced as a joint project by the MoD and Department for Transport in May 2006. A "competitive dialogue" is being used to progressively refine the Search and Rescue helicopter requirement, develop bidders' solutions and will culminate in the selection of a preferred bidder. The contract will replace the current UK Search and Rescue helicopter capability, which is provided today by Royal Navy and RAF Sea King helicopters and a civilian helicopter service contracted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, with a joint service that is no less effective than the current one. Two consortia are engaged in the competition, and are expected to deliver the new service over the coming decade.


  2.11.  Beyond seeking to ensure that it has the necessary helicopter numbers to deliver the capabilities the Armed Services require, the other key equipment concern is to ensure that MoD is able to support its aircraft and provide the necessary levels of serviceability to the front line.

  2.12.  The Department is in the process of transforming the way it delivers equipment support, including for helicopters, under a process known as the transformation staircase (see Figure 2 below). Historically, under traditional support arrangements, when equipment broke the Department had to pay to repair it and there was little incentive on the supplier to improve the reliability and maintainability of the product. The Department then moved onto arrangements that helped incentivise reliability by replacing some broken parts with spares provided within the contract price, which is known as spares inclusive arrangements. MoD is now increasingly moving towards arrangements for all of its helicopters that see payments made only when the equipment is serviceable, hence providing an even stronger incentive to provide equipment that can be made available for use the maximum amount of time. This is known as Contracting for Availability but in the field of helicopters is often referred to as Integrated Operational Support (IOS). The MoD already has a number of such contracts in place, with both AgustaWestland for Sea King and Merlin and with Boeing for Chinook, with similar arrangements planned for other aircraft. The recent Gnome Engine availability contract for the Sea Kings signed in December 2008 is also an example of incentivising equipment availability.

Figure 2


  2.13.  The principle benefit of Contracting for Availability or IOS arrangements is that the Department is able to focus on deciding the level of support that is required (the output) and looking to Industry to manage the delivery of the required output. This leaves industry to bring its full potential and expertise to bear to provide an enhanced support service at the minimum cost. The Department's aim is to deliver better value for money through an optimised supply chain and more efficient asset management to maximise the level of output that can be provided to the front line. The payment mechanism is based on flying hours—the Users' principle unit of output. Both MoD and Industry agree that the quality and responsiveness of support services now delivered under IOS are significantly improved in comparison to traditional support arrangements. By working together to improve every aspect of their business relationship, with further incentives under gain-share, IOS contracts are focusing on continuous improvement opportunities in both processes and products, delivering reliability improvements that drive up availability and bear down on whole-life cost, while maintaining safe and available aircraft.

  2.14.  In terms of benefits, Sea King Integrated Operational Support (SKIOS) is expected to provide a 20% through-life cost reduction, with the Integrated Merlin Operational Support (IMOS) expected to deliver about the same through-life cost reduction. AgustaWestland IOS arrangements are anticipated to save some £250 million over the next 10 years. For Chinook, the Boeing equivalent of IOS has not only generated significant savings but has been instrumental in significantly driving up platform utilisation to support operations on Op HERRICK. Activity levels are now 25% higher than ever previously achieved on the UK Chinook fleet. Moreover, depth maintenance Turn-Round Times have been reduced by over 40% and the recovery of damaged aircraft has been significantly accelerated, thereby increasing aircraft availability to the Front Line.

  2.15.  In some instances, the Department is examining the scope to move to contracting for capability or service provision whereby the Supplier is responsible for providing a capability and outputs to an agreed performance standard. The proposed PFI contract for Search and Rescue capability is an example of this.


  2.16.  The primary means of assessing whether the Department is delivering the required helicopter output is through measuring the level of flying hours that a particular fleet is able to generate, rather than the number of airframes available. Priority is given to meeting operational tasking requirements and ensuring that operational Commanders continue to have sufficient assets to undertake key tasks. The Department recognises that they could always do with more and continue to strive to increase the aircraft levels available to them.


  2.17.  The responsibility for determining military helicopter requirements lies with the Head of Capability for Air and Littoral Manoeuvre (HoC(ALM)). Under Through Life Capability Management processes, HoC(ALM) works with the front line commands, Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), the scientific community, and MoD Centre to determine helicopter requirements; collectively these organisations are known as the MoD Unified Customer. These organisations work together on Capability Management Groups and Capability Planning Groups to determine capability requirements. HoC(ALM) is provided with a budget to meet these requirements.

  2.18.  The effective delivery of these capability requirements is dependent on timely and coherent management of the Defence Lines of Development (DLODs): Training, Equipment, Personnel, Infrastructure, Doctrine, Organisation, Information, and Logistics. This process is managed by the two helicopter Programme Boards (Heavy Lift and Find/Attack), chaired by HoC(ALM), attended by owners of each of the DLODs, and supported by a Programme Support Function. This approach recognises that the delivery of effective equipment offers nothing if it is not coherent with the delivery of the other DLODs. DE&S plays a key role in the delivery of the Equipment and Logistics DLOD (through its 10 helicopter Project Teams) and in supporting the effective coordination of all DLODs through the provision of the Programme Support Function.

  2.19.  While the above approach is relatively new within the Department, such a programme management approach has been adopted for most of the helicopter capability since the advent of the Future Rotorcraft Capability Programme in 2004. This holistic consideration of helicopter capability has supported trade-offs between difference capability areas (from both a finance and manpower perspective), better sequencing of investment opportunities and has allowed capability gaps to be better articulated.


  2.20.  Industry plays a vital role in the effective delivery of military capability and its support, and MoD continues, in general, to be pleased with the aerospace industry's support to operations (to modify existing aircraft, buy new, and improve equipment support) over recent years. The demand that MoD is placing on Industry to support current operations is very high and the Deprtment maintains a regular dialogue with key Suppliers to ensure priority demands are met.

  2.21.  Many of MoD's current demands on Industry require the skills which the Department highlighted in the Defence Industrial Strategy as being essential to retain onshore, ie those critical to the through-life support of the current aircraft fleet (including technology insertion) and the verification of continued airworthiness of military helicopters. These skills are largely resident onshore at AgustaWestland, Yeovil. The demands of current operations, coupled with export business, and ongoing procurement and modification projects mean that those critical skills are safeguarded in the medium-term. However, beyond this the volume of new helicopters required by the MoD dictates that Industry will need to continue to transform its business models to focus more on new export orders and on the through-life support to the current fleet.



  3.1.  In delivering the flying hours necessary to meet operational requirements, the Department must provide the required number of appropriately trained air and ground crew and maintainers and the required number of airframes.


  3.2.  The three Armed Services maintain Full Command of the recruitment and training of their helicopter personnel. However, Operational Command (that is their provision to operational commanders) of helicopter assets is divided between Navy Command, Air Command and the Joint Helicopter Command:

    (a) Navy Command—maintains Operational Command of its maritime helicopter fleet of Anti-Surface and Anti-Submarine (Lynx Mks 3 and 8 and Merlin Mk 1), Airborne Surveillance (Sea King Mk 7) and Search and Rescue (Sea King Mk 5) helicopters. This fleet contributes to current operations, Standing Overseas Commitment and contingent operations both globally and in the UK.

    (b) Joint Helicopter Command—maintains Operational Command of the Commando Helicopter Force (Lynx Mk 7 and Sea King Mk 4), the AAC helicopters (Apache, Gazelle and Lynx Mks 7 and 9) and the RAF Medium and Heavy Lift helicopter fleet (Merlin Mk 3, Puma and Chinook).

    (c) Air Command maintains—Operational Command of its Search and Rescue helicopters (Sea King Mk 3 and 3a).


Aircrew Training

  3.3.  Candidates applying for a career as aircrew in the Royal Navy, Army and RAF must pass through a selection process involving medical screening, Aircrew Aptitude testing and Flying Grading before attending a Selection Board. Successful candidates then begin their aircrew training.

Elementary Flight Training

  3.4.  The first phase in the training of Armed Forces pilots is Elementary Flying Training (EFT) on light fixed wing aircraft. The EFT provides a profile of pilot competences which determines whether the pilot enters the Fast-Jet, Multi-Engine (fixed wing non-jet) or Rotary-Wing training stream.

Figure 3



  3.5.  The aircrew of all three of the Armed Services[8] begin their helicopter-specific training at the tri-service Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) at RAF Shawbury, which comprises a Headquarters and five training squadrons. DHFS is a contracted service which is due to end in 2012. The Department is currently carrying out work to assess how best to take forward coherent helicopter training for the three Armed Services from that point.

  3.6.  Ground School is the first stage of training at RAF Shawbury. At the Ground School students learn the principles of flight, air operations and Crew Resource Management, the latter being focused on operational rather than aircraft-specific competences. Ground School also provides a technical introduction to the Squirrel helicopters which students will be flying during their Single Engine Basic Rotary Wing (SEBRW) Training.

  3.7.  SEBRW Training provided by 660 Squadron at Shawbury is the next phase of training and constitutes students' first formal flying instruction. During 11 weeks of SEBRW training, students learn basic and advanced flying techniques, on successful completion of a Basic Handling Check they then progress to Single Engine Advanced Rotary Wing (SEARW) Training.

  3.8.  SEARW Training is carried out at Shawbury by 705 Squadron and is the point at which helicopter training for the three Armed Services begins to diverge. Army and RAF students undertake 35 hours with the SEARW Training with 705 Squadron, whilst Royal Navy students undertake 47 hours, with the extra 12 hours largely devoted to winch training and mountain flying (skills particularly necessary for those who will go on to become Royal Navy Search and Rescue aircrew or serve with the Commando Helicopter Force). Whilst Royal Navy students continue this more specialised training at Shawbury, Army students move to their Operation Training Phase (OTP) at the School of Army Aviation (SAAvn) at Middle Wallop to learn specialised skills including low-level tactical flying, the use of night vision goggles and the direction of artillery fire.

  3.9.  MEARW Training RAF students go to 60(R) Squadron at Shawbury to undertake Multi-Engine Advanced Rotary Wing (MEARW) Training before undertaking introductory Search and Rescue training at RAF Valley.

  3.10.  Students in all three services are assessed throughout their SEARW and MEARW Training and must successfully complete Final Handling Tests at the end of each phase of training before they can progress. In general, those unable to maintain progress are given a small number of additional flying sorties and if the required standard is not met, they are removed from the course.

  3.11.  Operational Conversion Units (OCU) This training is the final phase of the aircrew training system. It is undertaken on the helicopter that crews will be operating on when they join their frontline units. It provides them with specialised training in both the operation of the aircraft type and the way they might be expected to fly it when deployed. It is also the point at which the entire crew of the helicopter (which can include pilots, observers and aircrew men) train together. Helicopter OCUs are located at six bases in the UK and, whilst the training tends to be administered by a single service, elements of the syllabus are set by the headquarters (Navy Command, Air Command or Joint Helicopter Command) under whose operational command the particular aircraft type falls. These are:

    RNAS Yeovilton—Royal Navy Lynx Mks 3 and 8, Sea King Mk 4 (approx. 40 weeks)

    RNAS Culdrose—Royal Navy Merlin Mk 1, Sea King Mks 5 and 7 (all approx. 40 weeks)

    SAAvn, Middle Wallop—Army Lynx Mks 7 and 9 (22 weeks[9]), Apache (approx 52 weeks) and Gazelle (approx. 7 weeks)

    RAF Benson—RAF Merlin Mk 3/3a (approx. 26 weeks) and Puma (approx 20 weeks)

    RAF Odiham—RAF Chinook (approx. 26 weeks)

    RAF Valley—RAF Sea King Mk 3/3a (approx. 26 weeks)

  3.12.  OCU Training focuses initially on flying and operating the aircraft safely (Conversion to Type Training) before moving onto role specific training (Conversion to Role). Dependent on the helicopter, role specific training may include low-level tactical flying, mountain flying, use of sensors, prosecution of targets, naval gunfire support, artillery support, tactical insertion, insertion of boarding parties, night operations, Search and Rescue and transport of loads. The length of OCU Training depends on the sophistication of the aircraft's systems, the specialist role skills required and the training which aircrew have received during SEARW/MEARW training.

Figure 4




  3.13.  On completing their OCU training, newly qualified aircrew join their operational unit. At this point they are considered to be Limited Combat Ready.[10] Over the course of their first year with their operational unit they will progress through all the roles which they will be required to perform on operations working towards reaching a Combat Ready level of competence.

  3.14.  The training of newly qualified aircrew falls into the ongoing training cycle which all aircrew within the operational unit undertake. It is carried out on both an individual and a collective basis.

    (a) Individual Training—consists of the maintenance of Currency in the flying of the aircraft and of Competency in a wide range of flying skills from the use of Night Vision Goggles to mountain flying to maritime crash drills, dependent on the aircraft's operational role.[11]

    (b) Collective Training—brings together the individual training of aircraft crew members with the capability provided by other platforms such as aircraft, ships, or ground units. Prior to deploying on operations, units undertake intensive collective Pre-Deployment Training tailored specifically for the operations they will undertake and the operating environment they will encounter on deployment. Pre-Deployment Training encompasses a range of training programmes including the refreshment on non-aircraft specific military skills, intelligence and operational briefings, and joint exercises—where possible with units also deploying to the same theatre of operation.



  3.15.  Potential Royal Navy Air Engineer Officers initially undertake the Systems Engineering Management Course (Air Engineering) at the Royal Naval Air Engineering and Survival School (RNAESS) at HMS Sultan. The course involves 45 weeks of foundation training for Direct Entry Graduates during which students are provided with an induction to generic aeronautical engineering and squadron engineering management. Training at HMS Sultan takes 24 weeks for Senior Upper Yardsmen,[12] who in all cases will have previous experience of air engineering during their careers as Air Engineering Technicians. The Systems Engineering Management Course (Air Engineering) is then followed by workplace-based training in the form of Certificate of Competency (CofC) training at an Air Station. This training allows students to consolidate their knowledge within a squadron environment and obtain platform specific aircraft knowledge; this training takes four months for Direct Entry graduates and two months for Senior Upper Yardsmen. On completion of their CofC training, students undertake a CofC Board and if successful will attain the status of qualified Air Engineer Officer with the majority immediately taking up their first compliment Front Line engineering appointments. Further training in the next stage of an Air Engineer Officer's career and prior to their change of appointment is also undertaken.

Air Engineering Technicians

  3.16.  Having completed the Phase 1 training undertaken by all ratings, trainee Royal Navy Air Engineering Technicians undertake 22 weeks of specialised Phase 2A Air Engineering training at the RNAESS, HMS Sultan; this training covers a generic introduction to aeronautical engineering, aircraft maintenance and support and squadron organisations. Provided they pass assessments, the trainees then progress to Phase 2B training on a specific aircraft type at an air station for 23 weeks to consolidate their knowledge and gain platform specific knowledge. If successful during both phases of training, ratings attain the grade of Operative—Qualified to Maintain (particular to aircraft type) and Qualified to Sign (confirmations of airworthiness)—and are assigned to an operational unit. After a period of time, Royal Navy Air Engineering Technicians usually then go on to promotion and more advanced training in one of two specialisations: Mechanical Trade Engineering or Avionics Trade Engineering. Dependant on the level of advancement, this training always includes a period at RNAESS, which may then be followed by a period of consolidation training and assessment at an air station. Competency to operate is assessed against a Tri-Service competency matrix.



  3.17.  Traditionally, the AAC Officers in Command of Ground Support Flights have been Late Entry officers with the experience of working as ground crew during their soldiering careers. From January 2010 the AAC will start recruiting some Direct Entry groundcrew officers from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. A bespoke Ground Support Flight Commanders Course will be delivered by SAAvn at Middle Wallop to both DE and LE ground support officers.

Non-Commissioned Groundcrew

  3.18.  Having completed the Phase 1 training undertaken by all AAC soldiers, potential ground crew carry out their Phase 2 Training at 2 (Training) Regiment ACC at Middle Wallop. After an initial induction package the soldiers will stream into to specialisations: Communications (signals) Specialists and Groundcrew Specialists. Training for the latter concentrates on all aspects of re-fuelling, arming and moving aircraft. In total, the Phase 2 training takes between 28 and 30 weeks and on its completion the soldier is considered a qualified Class 3 ground crew. Further training is carried out with their unit to bring the soldier up to a Class 2 level of competence. After 12 to 18 months the ground crew soldier returns to 2 (Training) Regiment at Middle Wallop in order to complete their advanced and trade-specific Class 1 training.


Aviation Engineering Officers

  3.19.  The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) deliver the Army's qualified aviation engineering capability. A six to seven week Enhanced Phase course at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham provides REME Engineering Officers with an induction to aeronautical engineering prior to their undertaking the seven month Officers Long Aeronautical Engineering course at the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering (DCAE) at Arborfield. From the DCAE, they will join their operational unit and, following a period of around four months with their unit they will attend a Viva Board at HQ Director of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (Army) and if successful they will attain the status of Aviation Engineering Officers.

Aviation Technicians

  3.20.  Having completed the Phase 1 training which all REME soldiers undertake, those wishing to pursue a career as REME Aviation Technicians begin their Phase 2 training at the School of Electronic and Aeronautical Engineering (SEAE) at Arborfield. The Aviation students take common induction and foundation courses over their first 15 weeks, before being streamed into two Aviation specialisations: Aircraft Technician and Avionics Technician. Aircraft Technician students move to the DCAE where they undertake vocational training while Avionics Technician students continue at SEAE to complete a 25 week Basic Electronics course before they too undertake vocational training at DCAE. Vocational training takes 47 weeks for Aircraft Technicians and 41 weeks for Avionics Technicians. The technicians then move on to Phase 3 of their training, completing any necessary platform-specific Equipment Courses before moving on to train with their operational units. It is during their unit training that they will progress to become qualified Class 2 technicians. Technicians will then usually return to DCAE to continue with more advanced training to a Class 1 level of competence.


Engineering Officers

  3.21.  The RAF does not recruit engineers to a particular flying stream; all aircraft engineers are eligible for fast-jet, rotary or multi-engined operations. All candidates complete the common officer selection process at the Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre.

Non-Commissioned Engineers

  3.22.  All RAF non-commissioned aeronautical engineers are trained at the DCAE in Cosford. They all undergo generic aeronautical engineering training and are not selected or streamed for any type of aircraft. They are equally capable of filling any vacancy for rotary, fast jet or multi-engine aircraft.

  3.23.  Those who wish to become Mechanical or Avionics Technicians undergo a common six month generic Aircraft Maintenance Mechanic course. On completion they are multi-skilled mechanics and undertake 18 months to two years productive service on a main operating base before returning to Cosford for a year long further training course. Here they are streamed into either Avionic or Mechanical specialisations and are taught to Technician standard. This is the basis of the advanced apprenticeship which, coupled with a period of productive service and on the job training, leads to the award of an NVQ.

  3.24.  Weapons Technicians are trained to Technician standard at the outset and do not go through the aircraft maintenance mechanic course. The Weapons Technician course is 13 months in duration.

  3.25.  All training at Cosford is generic and provides the technicians with the fundamentals they require to underpin their trade. They are assigned by RAF Personnel to fill vacancies as required. The student does not graduate from DCAE Cosford unless they have achieved the training performance standard. When an aircraft maintenance mechanic or an avionics, mechanical or weapons technician arrives at his assignment they will be given the type-specific training necessary through training cells on the individual squadron, a type-specific maintenance school or, in some cases, courses delivered by the aircraft manufacturer.

  3.26.  Once they have satisfactorily completed their type specific training they will be given the necessary engineering authorisations to work on aircraft.


Procurement in Support of Current Operations

  3.27.  Section 2 sets out in detail helicopter procurement and support and the process that underpins it. Beyond the Department's standard equipment procurement and support processes, a significant amount of effort is put into the delivery of Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs), which are crucial for current operations. Whereas the Equipment Programme is designed to deliver long-term core capabilities that can be employed globally to meet a range of potential future threats, the intention of UORs is to adapt and respond quickly to unforeseen requirements specific to particular operational environments and emerging threats—for example as a result of the enemy forces' developing techniques, tactics and procedures.

  3.28.  Because UORs are by nature unforeseen and theatre-specific, it not possible to predict them in advance; instead capabilities are delivered through the UOR process when the requirement emerges. The required capability is then fast-tracked to the front line.

Chinook Mk 3 Reversion Programme

  3.29.  In 1995, the Department ordered 8 Chinook Mk 3 helicopters for special operations but, due to well-reported technical problems, they have remained unavailable since their delivery in 2001. On 30 March 2007, it was announced by the then Chancellor that, as part of a package of investment in the Department's battlefield helicopter fleet, the Chinook Mk 3 aircraft would be converted to a battlefield Support Helicopter role. The Reversion programme is being taken forward through the UOR process with the Department funding the majority of the Reversion work and HM Treasury funding the theatre modifications. The result of the Reversion Programme will be an increase in the Chinook fleet of 20% and the fielding of the aircraft more than two years earlier than would have been the case under the previous plans to resolve the technical problems.

Theatre Entry Standard UORs

  3.30.  The Department's helicopters are fitted with equipment to allow them to fulfil the role which they will be required to perform across a range of operational environments and against a range of threats. However, the fitting of additional "Theatre Entry Standard" equipment may be required to meet the threat and environmental conditions which may be encountered in a specific theatre. This has been the case in both Iraq and, in particular, Afghanistan, where the sophisticated and changing nature of the threat from hostile forces and the dusty and, in the summer, hot and high altitude conditions have required the Department to carry out several Theatre Entry Standard modifications under HM Treasury-funded UORs. These include the fitting of improved Defensive Aids Suites to several platforms and equipping both the Royal Navy Sea King Mk 4 and the RAF Merlin Mk 3 helicopters with new main rotor blades and Display Night Vision Goggles (the work on the Merlin Mk 3 is ongoing). The Department is also upgrading its 22 current Lynx Mk 9 aircraft with T800 engines, 12 under a HM Treasury-funded UOR and has now secured . These more powerful engines will enable Lynx Mk 9 to provide a year-round Light Helicopter capability, including during the summer months when it is currently unable to operate.

Merlin Mk 3a

  3.31.  In addition to the significant number of UORs that it has completed, MoD has also taken urgent action under its standard processes where an urgent requirement for more helicopter capability has been identified. In July 2008 the Front Line Commands took delivery of six Merlin Mk 3a Medium Lift helicopters. These aircraft were acquired from the Danish Government in order to provide a 25% increase in the RAF Merlin fleet more quickly than would have been possible through a conventional procurement route. The Merlin Mk 3a, have been fitted with state of the art new main rotor blades and sensors and have been absorbed into the IMOS contract. The RAF's Merlins are currently committed to Iraq, but once their mission there has ended, the Department intends to deploy them to Afghanistan as soon as practicable.

Maintenance in Support of Current Operations

  3.32.  The process by which helicopter airframes are supported and the priority which the Department places on delivering flying hours to meet operational tasking requirements is outlined in Section 2.

  3.33.  At any one time, a percentage of the total Departmental Fleet will be undergoing routine scheduled Depth maintenance and some aircraft will also be undergoing Theatre Entry Standard modifications and upgrades to ensure they are capable of operating in current theatres and against current threats. The number of aircraft in the Forward Fleet (those available for training, standing commitments and operational use) is therefore dictated by these essential maintenance and modification functions.

  3.34.  Serviceability is not solely an equipment issue, being also dependent on the performance of many aspects of support, including spares availability and the expediency of the supply chain, and the availability of appropriately trained Front Line Command manpower. MoD is continuing to increase the numbers of available maintenance personnel in support of current operations to provide better resilience for the deployed units. The Department has also introduced improved In-Theatre logistics support, including the increased use of Deployable Spares Packs and it is actively ensuring that commanders have appropriate/optimum stock types and levels in theatre. MoD is also taking forward work to improve the cost effectiveness of its support solutions, including adjustments to the Lynx In-Service Support Arrangement and for the engines of the Sea King fleet.

Improvement in Flying Hours—Afghanistan

  3.35.  The UORs which the Department has delivered, and the improvements in logistics and maintenance support both in theatre and in the UK have had a tangible effect on the number of hours made available to commanders on the ground in Afghanistan. As of April 2009, the Department has delivered the following percentage increases in helicopter flying hours in Afghanistan, when compared to November 2006.

Figure 5


ApacheChinook Lynx Mk 7Sea King Mk 4  Total Increase
43 per cent50 per cent 25 per centNot deployed in
October 2006
84 per cent

  3.36.  The Department intends to make further significant increases in total year-round helicopter flying hours following the introduction of RAF Merlin by the end of 2009 and re-engined Lynx Mk 9 in 2010.


  This section includes classified information and is therefore provided as a separate classified annex.

23 April 2009

6   The heaviest take off mass at which the aircraft has been shown to meet applicable airworthiness requirements. Back

7   Future Lynx will be known formally as AW159 Lynx Wildcat; the manufacturer AgustaWestland is hosting a naming event on 24 April. Back

8   With the exception of Royal Navy observers who receive their role-specific training separately at RNAS Culdrose. Back

9   As of June 2009. Back

10   The terminology varies according to Armed Service. Back

11   For Navy Command and Joint Helicopter Command, the guideline flying hours per month for the retention of Currency and Competency is 15 hours. Back

12   The equivalent of Late Entry officers in the Army. Back

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