Returning to the familiar subject of helicopters; the MoD has announced a number of upgrades to the UK rotary fleet.
A £408 million upgrade project has been awarded to Vector Aerospace in Gosport to bring the entire fleet of airframes up to a common standard. The upgrade is split into 2 elements, engines and avionics. The announcement was made in early August under the Project Julius banner.
The existing engines are being replaced with Honeywell T55 L714A engines, although a couple of RAF Chinooks do use this engine. The engine upgrade improves power by approximately 20%, increases fuel efficiency and reduces maintenance requirements. The net result will be improved performance and greater availability.
The avionics upgrade will convert the analogue cockpit dials with fully digital displays, much more suited to night time flying at a cost of £280m. A forward looking infra red system, additional BOWMAN and other enhancements will also be fitted.
The project will provide a useful capability increase and perhaps more importantly will create a harmonised fleet that will reduce maintenance costs significantly. Of course it won’t happen overnight and it is estimated that the project will be complete by 2015 although the engine upgrade will be sooner.
Some of the upgrades already exist and recent UOR’s have resulted in a fleet with little revision harmony so this is an eminently sensible and long term investment to standardise the fleet.
The cost across the fleet works out to just under £11m each.
Compare and contrast the US CH47F upgrade for the US forces.
The US Army operates a huge fleet of Chinook’s with some over 40 years old. In a similar move their aim was to harmonise the entire fleet to a single level and provide a number of new builds. Boeing will be providing both upgrades and new builds in a multi year deal. Some of the airframes will be the special forces ‘G’ version but the vast majority will be to the F standard. The F standard will have the T55 L714A engines as the RAF upgrade a similar range of avionics and systems upgrades across a number of design areas although the upgraded models will have completely rebuilt fuselages to provide a life extension, digital avionics and a number of other improvements.
So the new RAF Chinooks and the US Army CH47F have a great deal of similarity although it would be fair to say each will have advantages and disadvantages when compared to each other.
The US Army paid Boeing in the order to $9 million per upgrade and $32 million for a new build or put another way, £6million per upgrade and £21million per new build (and I am being generous in the conversion)
Without knowing the exact details of the upgrade, current prices, quantities and other peripheral costs it is very difficult to make a meaningful comparison but the RAF’s upgrades cost £11 million and the US Army’s cost £6million.
£6 million is also the very rough figure for an engine upgrade on the Lynx Mk9A’s we looked at in a previous post.
The US Army get a completely remanufactured and upgraded Chinook and we get an up engineed Lynx for about the same cost.
Are we getting value for money?