Helicopters, again


We tend to try and step back from most news-related issues and post something that is a little more measured and thoughtful at a later date but once again the subject of helicopters have hit the news again in the political storm that is currently taking place around the taped conversation between Gordon Brown and Jacqui Janes so I thought a quick post on the subject might be worthwhile.

This is an incredibly emotive subject and coming so close to Armistice Day, a subject that is very tricky to blog, we are of course talking about a dead serviceman and his grieving family. We have a free press and free speech in this country so whilst we might find the Sun’s coverage a little opportunistic and exploitative the fact remains that it is newsworthy and in the public interest.

One might feel a little sorry for Gordon Brown, besieged on all sides but unfortunately, he is the author of much of his misfortune. Next week I am sure the headline will be ‘Gordon Brown steps on crack on the pavement: Outrage’

Since we started this blog our position has been that defence needs two things, more money and better spending and the helicopter issue can be neatly encapsulated in these two needs.

Would more helicopters have enabled Jamie to survive, who knows, certainly not us? I don’t want to pick over the bones of the conversation and over analyse it but others will likely do so but a quick look at some of the issues might be useful to others.

1. The Merlins that were brought back from Iraq are not sitting in this country but are at the US Navy’s facility El Centro in California undergoing their pre-deployment training, at least 4 of them anyway. Predeployment training is vital, it provides aircrew and ground crew with the chance to prepare for the unique challenges of Afghanistan. Each ground or air unit undergoes some predeployment training before going to Afghanistan. Whilst superficially similar to Iraq, Afghanistan is a completely different operating environment and the Merlins have been fitted with a whole host of equipment upgrades. This has been a complex and demanding task, coordinating equipment upgrades and training, training with the equipment upgrades.

2. Chinooks are such a scarce commodity that commanders have to balance competing needs and risks. If we could have all 10 Chinooks in theatre on permanent standby for use by the Medical Emergency response Teams (MERT), which comprises a number of specialist medical personnel and soldiers, then it would create such an inbalance so as to render other operations highly risky or impossible to complete. Numbers available therefore fluctuate depending on need but as a minimum, it has been reported that one is always available on a 24×7 basis. The Chinook is uniquely well suited to the task because it is fast and very spacious which means multiple casualties can be treated en route to the field hospital at Bastion.

What is absolutely 100% certain is that more helicopters would support a greater operational tempo.

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