UK military helicopter fleet in 2019 will be half of 2009 fleet

UK military helicopter fleet in 2019 will be half of 2009 fleet

7-Aug-2015 Source: Nova Systems

On 31 July 2015 the final Army Air Corps course on the Lynx AH Mk7 helicopter completed their advanced twin engine training, and at a stroke another helicopter disappeared from the UK inventory. This event highlights the missing link that exists being staged government policy and the ability to deliver it, where small cuts in equipment here and there tend to go unnoticed, but the cumulative effects are inevitably quite eye watering.  In the case of the MOD it is in the helicopter arena that this has become most acute and is sure to be something that will focus minds during the current SDSR15 defence review.

The statistics (all from MOD data provided through Hansard) provide for interesting reading:

One note to make on this data is that the loss of at least 40 Sea King airframes (3/5) has been directly due to the civilianisation of the Search and Rescue task, which will all be the responsibility of Maritime and Coastguard Agency (through Bristow) by April 2016.  However, this is no explanation for the rest of the cuts totalling some 230 airframes across all three services.

All of these numbers cuts have been hidden away from public view as older aircraft have been retired and no replacements have been ordered.  Thus the loss of the Gazelle aircraft, used widely by the Army Air Corps in field liaison and other tasks has not been noticed or announced.  The reduction in Lynx airframes from 158 in 2009, down to 62 of the Wildcat replacement aircraft to the Royal Navy and Army Air Corps, has been hidden in the announcement of new projects and programmes which always seem to be portrayed as good news.

The Royal Navy’s Merlin fleet, cut by 12 since the 2009 data, will be placed under further operational pressure with the aircraft taking on the ASaC role from the Sea King.  This choice was made despite the other 12 Merlin airframes still being available to the MOD, and without a new owner, effectively consigning these half used airframes to the scrap heap.  All of this with the new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier actually needing more aircraft to support and protect it rather than less.

From a delivery of military effort perspective in support of the now rather diverse set of challenges the UK faces, from a resurgent Russian Bear to the middle-eastern turmoil drive by ISIL, these helicopter forces face an almost impossible task.  In the evidence that the MOD has provided to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee both verbal and written it has admitted that these projected force structures cannot actually meet the required tasks at very senior levels.  Some of this explains why all three Armed Forces are struggling to retain helicopter pilots and engineering staff who are working progressively harder to try and provide these limited assets to the front line.

Some might say we should make do and mend but as the RAeS have recently stated, SDSR15 should be more about a ‘Strategic Reassessment of the UK’s global ambitions’.  From what David Cameron has recently been saying about operating East of Suez perhaps that is occurring, but rhetoric and international political posturing do not make up for the lack of equipment.

Simon Sparkes – Nova Systems

Reproduced from LinkedIn with permission of Nova Systems. This is NOT a press release. has an exclusive agreement with Nova Systems which allows us to reproduce their articles posted on LinkedIn. Copyright and full responsibility for the content of this article remains with Nova Systems.

Nova Systems


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