Returning to the familiar subject of helicopters; the MoD has announced a number of upgrades to the UK rotary fleet.
Puma and Lynx
We covered the Lynx upgrade in a previous post and observed that at a cost of approximately £6.5million each the Army Air Corps would be getting 20 upgraded AH Mk.9A Lynx helicopters.
Although announced a while ago the MoD have also recently covered the Puma upgrade contracts.
In a similar move to the Chinook upgrade 30 Pumas will receive new, more powerful engines (Turbomeca Makila), new avionics and a number of other improvements to enable them to be deployed to Afghanistan. Eurocopter will carry out the upgrade work in Romania following a 12 month assessment contract. Although it is stated that 30 airframes will be upgraded the deal provides for 28 upgrades with an option on the final pair. The rest of the fleet will be withdrawn and/or used for spares, something that is happening a great deal anyway so is hardly news.
The total contracted cost is £300million; each airframe will therefore cost just under £11million each.
Much has been made of the fact that the contract will create or sustain jobs in Romania rather than the UK because of the recession. The union Amicus waded into the issue, preferring the Sea King upgrade option and the MoD dithered. Lord Mandelson intervened in favour of the Eurocopter option because of the reported Airbus link (EADS), work is carried out in the UK for the Airbus wing assemblies.
The upgrade will see the Puma remain in service until 2022, by which time the MoD may well have decided what the Future Medium Helicopter programme will look like.
The original announcements were £400million for 33 aircraft so this latest news that it is the same price for 28 aircraft comes as no surprise, it seems to be common to announce the cost and number but quietly reduce the number whilst retaining the cost in subsequent announcements.
Upgraded Lynx, £6.5million each, total contract value £140million
Upgraded Chinook, £11million each, total contract value £408million
Upgraded Puma, £11million each, total contract value £300million
After years of dithering and delays the operational and political need for more helicopters in Afghanistan has meant the MoD are against the wall, needing to make a hasty decision based on the political imperative to ‘get more helicopters’
We must commend the MoD for finally squeezing the Treasury for just shy of £850million for these upgrades, this in addition to the money for the ex Danish Merlin’s (total cost approximately £180million) and Chinook HC3 reversion (total cost including original purchase approximately £422million)
No doubt each of these upgrades will result in worthwhile capability improvements to assist with operations in Afghanistan and when carping about the cost we should remember this but why does the vast majority of our rotary fleet need an upgrade to operate in Afghanistan, is it because it has been underfunded for decades?
It is interesting to note the timings of these announcements, nothing at all to do with the Labour Party Conference, of course.
Are we really getting good value for money with these three upgrades, has delay and dither resulted in us buying the ‘last chicken in the shop’ and has the need for the political message of ‘supporting our brave boys’ forced a hasty and poor long term decision?