Helicopter shortfalls worsen for forces
23 May 2008
A number of vital helicopters in the armed forces including the Apache and the Chinook have starling numbers of aircraft unfit for purpose according to new MoD figures.
Despite Defence Secretary Des Browne’s clarification of the MoD’s helicopter strategy earlier this week which includes keeping a certain number of helicopters out of service, armed forces minister Bob Ainsworth was forced to admit that nine of the thirteen types of helicopters in use are at less than 50 per cent of their normal strength in their forward operating fleet.
Helicopters that are critical to frontline operations are grossly under strength in their forward fleets. Only 36 per cent of Apache helicopters in the forward fleet are operational while less than half of Chinooks (47 per cent) in the current fleet are fit for flying at any point in time Ainsworth revealed.
Other notable helicopter types in the forward fleet that are severely short of their operational targets include the Royal Navy’s Sea King MK 4/6c (36 per cent strength), the RAF’s Puma MK1 (42 per cent) and the Merlin MK 3/3a (37 per cent).
Only the Merlin MK 1, Sea King Mk7 and the Augusta A109 had over half of their forward fleet up to operational standards.
The statistics are the just the latest in a string of disastrous performance indicators for the helicopter fleet. Earlier this month, key pinch point statistics showed that there is a major shortfall in helicopter pilots for the forces. Apache crews are only at 40 per cent strength and getting over the 50 per cent barrier within the next few years could continue to prove a challenge for the MoD officials said.
In March the MoD revealed that they were cannibalising helicopters for spare parts in order to keep other helicopters in the air. In 2007 this occurred over 1,800 times. The Chinook has proven to be one of the most problematic aircraft, as defence officials have been forced to cannibalise spare aircraft over 1,000 times in the last year.
Ainsworth has repeatedly defended the process, saying that it keeps the highest number of aircraft operational. He said that all incidents of cannibalisation were authorised and often involved taking a small part.