Future Lynx – Wildcat or FatCat

Not for the first time in its history has the AgustaWestland Lynx Wildcat been the focus of this website or the media in general, and not for all the right reasons.  Lynx Wildcat’s latest foray back into the headlines has been due to vast increase in its development costs.  The actual cost of the Lynx Wildcat project has been open question since it the initial budget for the aircraft was announced as £1billion for 70 aircraft; with a mix of both navy and battlefield reconnaissance helicopters.  This was then adjusted to 62 aircraft, although the price tag remained the same; with the approximate cost for each aircraft being muted at £14million.

Following recent questions asked in the House of Commons by Conservative MP, Douglas Carswell, regarding the costs of Future Lynx, Quentin Davies stated that the total cost is now forecast at a staggering £1.7billion for the same 62 aircraft.  Allowing a sundry cost to each unit for spare parts, training and infrastructure etc, this demonstrates a unit cost, including development, in the region of £20-25million.  Although the aircraft offers a greater capability over the existing Lynx models, this additional capability does not equate to £1.7billion, and not by a long shot.  This also pushes it into the cost realm of the Chinook and Merlin, for a fraction of the lift capability.  In this sense Lynx Wildcat is a prime example of the ‘Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns’; but you don’t need a degree in economics to work that one out.

If the Lynx is the one and only answer to the needs of our armed forces, which it isn’t, this beggars the question why the MOD does not simply adopt the existing AgustaWestland Super Lynx 300 model that is already in service with a number of foreign forces, including Oman, South Africa and Malaysia; and has been for a number of years.  The development costs have already been paid for and although it will not have the systems proposed with the Lynx Wildcat, it will definitely come a very close second.  Given the costs involved this would appear to offer greater value for money, plus given its similarity to the current Lynx and it could be brought into service sooner.

Long time supporter of Westlands is David Laws, MP for Yeovil, he gave the following comments to the Yeovil Express, dated 20th July 2009:

It would a disaster for both the armed forces and for South Somerset if there was any attempt to stop Future Lynx from proceeding.  It is essential that Future Lynx goes ahead, to replace the existing fleet of Army and Navy Lynx helicopters.  The Conservatives just do not appear to understand that we need both Future Lynx and a medium lift helicopter – and in my view this should be the British Merlin helicopter.  It would be madness for the Ministry of Defence to think again on Future Lynx, and it would cause yet more uncertainty and delay.  This project is already well advanced in Yeovil, and when Future Lynx/Wildcat is delivered it will lead to a big improvement in helicopter capability.  We have to find the money to meet all of our helicopter needs, and we should be focusing on reducing the number of helicopter types in service, instead of buying Blackhawk helicopters, as the Conservatives are suggesting.  We should in my view concentrate on four main helicopter types – Apache for ground attack; Future Lynx/Wildcat for naval operations, light transport and reconnaissance; Merlin for the Future Medium Helicopter; and Chinook for heavy lift.  We should be focusing now on securing extra money from the Defence Budget to buy more Merlins and Chinooks, rather than questioning the much needed Future Lynx/Wildcat.

The above comments come as no surprise as the AgustaWestland factory is in Mr Laws constituency and he would gladly welcome any influx of investment into that locality, but his primary concern is for the manufacturer, not for the end user.  What isn’t mentioned above is that the Lynx helicopter has already demonstrated poor performance in Afghanistan and is unable to cope with the hot and high conditions.  Our forces therefore, seem to be operating quite well or at least coping without the need for a dedicated Battlefield Reconnaissance Helicopter (BRH), which was the whole point of introducing Lynx Wildcat in the first place; the role thus seems to be somewhat redundant before it actually gets into service.  Battlefield reconnaissance at the moment is carried out through a combination of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) and dedicated surveillance aircraft.  The Apache attack helicopters, which the Future Lynx was meant to compliment, seem to be coping quite well without it.

The Lynx Mk 9’s used by the Army Air Corps are currently going through an engine upgrade programme and will undoubtedly be deployed to Afghanistan once back in service.  This leaves a very large question mark over Future Lynx as it would be cheaper to simply manufacture additional Lynx Mk 9’s for a fraction of the cost which would still provide a significant proportion of the proposed capability.  So, contrary to Mr Laws’ comments, Future Lynx is not ‘much needed’ it is merely ‘much desired’, neither would it be ‘madness’ for the MOD to cancel Future Lynx, nor would it be a disaster for the armed forces if it did, if anything it would make financial sense as there are cheaper alternatives waiting in the wings; alternatives which are manufactured by the self-same company.

As with all defence projects there is a cut-off point where both the MOD and the Government need to accept that a project is no longer financially viable and a cheaper alternative needs to be sought.  As an example the United States Government cancelled the RAH-66 Comanche reconnaissance/attack helicopter even though an obscene amount of time and money had already been committed to the project.  This goes to prove that merely throwing money and effort at a project will not always guarantee success or result in an effective weapon system, as priorities can quickly change.  In addition to this, in these economically difficult times there is also a moral question regarding the expenditure of this nations tax revenue, is it right that we spend vast sums in developing a helicopter which demonstrates only marginal improvements in capability and performance as is the case with Future Lynx?

Despite what politicians may think, the Future Lynx/Lynx Wildcat is not the only game in town as AgustaWestland have a number of helicopters in their product line-up that could be adapted to suit the roles of both reconnaissance and light utility; namely the AW109 or the AW139.  Given the sums the MOD seems eager to spend on the development of Future Lynx alone, these alternatives could be modified and militarised for a fraction of the cost and would still help secure the long term viability of the company.  Unfortunately AgustaWestland, the MOD and David Laws appear to be somewhat blind to this.

AgustaWestland as a company produce a number of truly exceptional and highly regarded aircraft; however, the fact that no other service in the world has purchased the Lynx as a battlefield helicopter apart from the Army Air Corps must at least say something.  All other current Lynx users utilise the aircraft in a maritime role.

In sharp comparison to David Laws, Douglas Carswell MP, may think that the Sikorsky Blackhawk is the veritable panacea to all our support helicopter woes, which it isn’t and acquiring it could possibly make matters significantly worse.  However, whatever the outcome of the Future Lynx project, the solution will not be achieved by simply throwing additional money at it.  The solution should be achieved by diligent consideration of the viable alternatives and the selection of the most cost effective, this may even result in introducing more than one type.  Having commonality between a navy and an army aircraft may be desirable but one shouldn’t be selected to the detriment of the role of the other.  Unfortunately the procurement of Future Lynx seems to be more about politics than practicalities, with scant regard to cost or common sense.  So, whatever emerges from this morass, given the lives at stake and the costs involved, it had better be worth it.

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August 29, 2009 10:47 am

Excellent article Richard. I completely agree. The Wildcat is a complete waste of time and money. If the MoD really want to have a Helicopter that can do both the Army and Navy roles (inter-changeably) then look no further than the Australian version of the NH90. You can even achieve the same thing with the Merlin (using the Transport version airframe but fitting the folding blades and tail of the Naval version – something they should have done in the beginning). If these are too small then the A139 is already in service and would make a superb alternative. As this is one of the Helecopters selected for the Coastguard then there are more areas for cost savings and crew familiarisation etc.

Failing that buy Blackhawks for the Army and Super Lynx for the Navy. This will give you the aircraft at the least cost and shortest timeframe.

Euan Stewart
Euan Stewart
October 16, 2009 1:54 pm

Hello! i appreciate that this was posted a while ago but i have only just stumbled upon this blog hopefully someone will still notice, but hey here goes.

I agree with the point about FLynx in the battlefield role, it is far too small and lacks a proper defined role. The recon role will be filled by UAV’s in future either fixed or rotary wing and these will be able to do the job much better IMHO. The Attack role can also now be fully covered by Apache and we no longer have to worry about the thousands of Soviet Tanks.

I agree that as a maritime helicopter it is superb and the many nations who have bought it will attest to that verdict especially return customers. In my opinion the full 62 production run of FLynx should be for the RN as they have the most use for it.

However i do think that the development should continue mainly as we are now so far into the program cancellation would not be totally viable. As a development of the Lynx line i think it is a good step forward from previous models by incorporating large amounts of composites. This seems to be the way forward although i do have my reservations.

My biggest grumble from this post is the following: “In sharp comparison to David Laws, Douglas Carswell MP, may think that the Sikorsky Blackhawk is the veritable panacea to all our support helicopter woes, which it isn’t and acquiring it could possibly make matters significantly worse.” How would buying UH-60’s be a bad idea? The first few examples could be bought from the USA and the remainder built in the UK. This has already been worked out and done years ago before A-stan appeared. Furthermore i see very little problem with this idea as the UK forces would get a reasonably priced, very capable, reliable and proven helicopter. Oh! and the UK tax payer might just get value for money, shocking really we can’t have that.

April 21, 2010 8:37 am

I think giving the navy 62 Wildcat lynxes is an exellent idea they could be used in part for helping combat pirates. The Blackhawks have a low obsverable signature and are pretty nippy as well,with powerful engines and they can be armed with 20mm miniguns-a great combo!

Captain Farrell
Captain Farrell
September 20, 2010 10:05 pm

A waste of time and money for the ground forces to have this! The navy would be well equipped with 62 of these. Chinook, Blackhawk & Apache we need! 3 proven airframes, cheap for the tax payer and do the job there designed for very well. Otherwise it’s like using pliers to undo a nut!, you’ll do it eventually but it’ll be frustrating and you’ll skin your knuckles!!!

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
September 21, 2010 10:01 am

Captain Farrell, I agree and I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve said it. The Lynx Wildcat would be great for the RN, it just doesn’t seem to tick enough boxes as a battlefield helicopter to justify the cost.

My concern with the forthcoming SDSR is that its going to be pretty much slash and burn. If the Lynx Wildcat gets cancelled or cut just for the AAC, there isn’t going to be any cash for any replacement aircraft, Blackhawks or otherwise. This will leave the AAC with the Lynx Mk.9A and the Mk.7’s, and the Mk.7’s will be at the end of their fatigue lives pretty soon, if they’re not there already. The only aircraft the AAC will be left with will be the Apache, 22 Lynx Mk.9’s and a hand full of Bell 212‘s and Eurocopter Dauphins.

The short term solution to aircraft numbers, I feel in my own honest opinion, prior to a future purchase of something like the AW149, would be to:

1. Build new Lynx Mk.9A airframes and transfer all the gearboxes and kit etc across and still keep the same serial number, essentially zero timing the airframe. I believe the Dutch Navy did this with some of their Lynx’s. However, this is not the cheapest solution.

2. Convert the remaining Mk.7’s with sufficient fatigue life remaining to Mk.9A’s. This is feasible as some of the Mk.9’s began life originally as Mk.7’s before they were subsequently converted. However, the numbers available will be pretty low.

3. Lease a greater number of Bell 212’s, these are used by the AAC in tropical areas as the original Lynx was underpowered. Training on this type would need to be expanded to cope with the increase, but we already have a core of trained personnel in the system as well as an established logistical support.

4. 847 Sqn, this former 3 Cdo Brigade Air Squadron uses the Army Mk.7 Lynx. These could be transferred back to the AAC to support their remaining fleet and 847 Sqn could convert to either the Mk.3 or the Mk.8 Navy Lynx. My reasoning behind this is that they would’ve been replaced by the Lynx Wildcat anyway, which has the navy type undercarriage, so there would be little change in that respect. Plus as the RN gets the new Lynx Wildcat there should a large number of Navy Lynx airframes up for grabs. With all the surplus airframes available it would be a shame to waste them. Any unnecessary kit could be de-roled to lighten the airframe and the aircraft just needs to be sprayed green

Admittedly not ideal solutions but as the forthcoming SDSR looks like its going to be pretty savage, we’ve got to look at low-cost, short term solutions for a few years until the money comes available in the future.

AW159 Insider
AW159 Insider
July 8, 2012 9:58 am

Excellent article and to my mind, spot on. I think I can speak from a point of authority as I’m am very closely connected with this project (Not Agusta Westland!) The one question I keep asking is ‘why?’ As in why are we still flogging this horse to death? The aircraft has been delivered to the MoD and are very far from satisfactory. Most of the systems dont work and the projected time scale for them to be sorted out is ‘at some point in the future’. So, the MoD have a £26 million ‘Lynx Mk10’ because all those shiny systems that were supposed to set it apart to make it a Wildcat simply havent been proven to work. The radar is a prime example. I was under the assumption that AW had to prove the aircraft first before we handed over a ton of money? This simply isnt the case. The MoD have taken a lemon and AW are laughing all the way to the bank. South Korea and Denmark are keenly looking at Wildcat. I’d suggest they save their money and look elsewhere.