I have long been a believer that as the UK armed forces move towards a 3 tier tactical and strategic transport fleet comprising the A400, c17 and A330 there exists a need for a small utility aircraft that can be used for a wide variety of functions. Some of our readers are not convinced and in the context of a shrinking budget and pressing matters elsewhere in the equipment programme I can see their point.
But could we ‘invest to save’ by purchasing a smaller aircraft with a multitude of uses that would relieve the larger aircraft of some tasks and crucially, take some of the roles of the hard pressed and very expensive to operate Support helicopter fleet (Chinook and Merlin)
Whilst it might be said that such an aircraft could not match the range and payload of its much larger partners or the versatility of the support helicopter one wonders that if these limitations and costs of introducing another airframe into an overstretched logistics, maintenance and training pipeline are accepted, would it still result in an overall cost reduction whilst increasing utility?
Without seeing a detailed costs breakdown it is impossible to say but worth asking nevertheless.
In a previous post I proposed the idea of an RAF COIN/Mentoring force that would use cheap to own and operate logistics aircraft to develop host nations air despatch capabilities. Whilst the USAF is seeking to create a similar force that will comprise both light attack and logistics capabilities I think the RAF might focus on one area, that of logistics, because it has a wider impact and can be achieved quicker and with less resources. The force could concentrate on mission planning, air logistics and other ‘back office’ type functions that are a precursor to combat operations.
The idea didn’t get much backing from the Think Defence readers but I am not going to let that stop me from flogging one of my pet hobby horses!
Any reader of this blog will know I appreciate the value of logistics and my continuing fascination with Mexeflotes and unmanned logistics is only encouraged by people like the born again Canadian (Jed), who proposed the Viking Twin Otter as the base aircraft for the USAF LiMA capability.
I did actually include the Twin Otter in my list for Group 1 aircraft, twin engined mid size, in the original post but recent news has meant that this option becomes even more attractive. Conventional wisdom says that if you want a small military airlifter you buy a Casa C212 or M28 Skytruck, going up the size scale would be the Casa 235 or even C27J but these start getting very expensive and complex.
Cost is the starting point for any such discussions, let’s be clear about that.
With the reduction in orders for the the Nimrod MRA4 there exists an obvious gap for quasi military maritime patrol and air sea rescue capabilities both in the UK and specifically in the Falkland Islands. We have already mentioned the combat logistics, training/mentoring in a conflict reduction capacity and there are many others.
Viking of Canada recently resurrected production of the venerable DHC Twin Otter and have been getting some serious orders from customers as diverse as the Vietnamese Navy and Zimex Aviation in Switzerland
The Series 400 has many improvements over the old model and its versatility is obvious; wheels floats or skis and the environmental hardening to operate in these diverse environments mean its legendary toughness has been retained.
Performance highlights are as follows;
STOL Takeoff and Landing Distance: 1200 ft (366m) (Takeoff distance to 50 ft)
Maximum Cruise Speeds: TAS Sea Level: 170 kt, 5,000 ft: 181 kt, 10,000 ft: 182 kt
Payload for 100 nautical mile (185km) range: 4280 lb (1941 kg), 400 nautical mile (741 km) range: 3250 lb (1474 kg)
Maximum Endurance with Standard Tankage (2583 lb (1172 kg) fuel): 7 hr 10 min, with Long Range Tankage (3190 lb (1447 kg) fuel): 9 hr
Viking have also introduced the Guardian 400 specifically for the surveillance, security, sovereignty and search and rescue market that has an extended range fuel tank (10 hour operations) and an electro-optical and infrared imaging turret which can be displayed on either the flight deck Honeywell Primus Apex Multi Function Display, or on a separate cabin console.
Other features might a include spotter camera, laser range finder, laser illuminator a light weight, 360 degree digital color radar system with Track-While-Scan capability, including long range navigation position update, target positions transmission, location latitude and longitude, target heading and velocity. The Guardian 400 will be equipped with 4 crew observation stations, rescue equipment drop hatch, air operable cargo door, search light, and a galley with adjacent lavatory and not forgetting, 4 wing hard points for additional stores.
Any takers, anyone with any other uses for a couple of squadrons worth?