Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Merlins to Afghanistan

Whoops! Someone pranged one of our Merlins which we're sending (very slowly) out to Afghanistan. Full story here.

The one rule of Helicopter crashes, sorry "Hard Landings", is that you really really want the damn thing to stay upright. It looks like this fell over after hitting the ground, which is hardly ideal. Breaking both legs hardly sounds comfortable.

Still, good that our troops have been training hard in Hot, "High" and Dusty conditions and backs up this story nicely.

£43m has been spent in modifying these relatively new helicopters for the conditions in Afghanistan, including new blades. Well, this crash, sorry "Hard Landing", has blown one of those sets. Hope someone's got the insurance documents!

Still, you've got to be pleased that these are finally getting out to Afghanistan. Sure, this particular helicopter will take 8 weeks to be assembled in field (It might have been faster to just shift the Yeoville factory out there instead) and we're still only expecting six more airframes to go out there.

These 6 are an increase of 25% on the existing fleet, so using a combination of science and alchemy I can infer that there are currently 24 Helicopters in theatre, ranging from the few Chinooks we've got left that haven't been shot down (about 5) to a few Pumas and Sea Kings.

Excellent. Times have changed, we now have 30 helicopters in theatre, people have worked bloody hard to get this far (and I've got no doubt getting to this level has required superhuman performance on the part of everyone involved).

Another way of looking at this figure is to compare it to the total number of helicopters we own. Afterall, we can't be using all of them for training or Christmas Trees.

Well, according to the RAF, we have 48 Chinooks (of which 8 are the SAS versions and thus useless). Assuming we have written off the two we lost recently, we're still looking at 5 in theatre from a pool of 38. Do we really need to have 7 airframes sitting around somewhere just to keep 1 airframe useable?

We have 28 Merlins, 22 initial buy (which we seem to have lost somewhere) and 6 we bought recently off the Danish - does that number sound familiar to anyone?

Pumas: 33 in service vs. the few we've got out there.

The RAF actually has a pretty decently sized SH fleet. We should be able to provide a decent level of support to our men and women on the ground. However, we do not.

The reasons for this are almost certainly down to two factors. Training and Spare Parts. The first fuck-up lies firmly at the door of the service - they have focused on training pilots for FJ and not for the SH mission. The second is a clear symptom of the mismanagement at DE&S. We are unable to put this helicopters where they are because someone didn't negotiate the contract for support properly (Yes, I know they're flying more hours than expected, that just means whoever did the original estimate was a pillock).

This leads to the problem that everyone, including those at the MoD, has had to work to get this small number out to theatre with both hands tied behind their back. I'm impressed at the work done but seriously dismayed that it takes this much work to wind up a fleet of six airframes when we have over 100 available.

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