UK Government announces helicopter capacity increase for Afghanistan operations
A significant increase in helicopter capacity for troops in Afghanistan is part of a package of measures to rebalance the Defence equipment programme towards the support of current operations announced by Defence Secretary John Hutton today, Thursday 11 December 2008.
In May 2008 the MOD began an examination of the equipment programme with the aim of adapting to the rising cost of high-end defence equipment and providing more support for current operations.
In a statement to Parliament today, Mr Hutton stressed that support to current operations remained the MOD's highest priority and to that end announced a significant increase to helicopter capacity in Afghanistan which, he added, was one of the highest priorities for operational commanders.
The number of helicopter airframes and hours available to commanders in Afghanistan had been increased by around 60 per cent over the past two years. But Mr Hutton announced today that - in addition to planned battlefield helicopter procurements - £70 million more will be spent from the Reserve to upgrade 12 Lynx Mark 9 helicopters with new engines, with the first aircraft available by the end of 2009.
The MOD also plans to move our Merlin helicopters to Afghanistan once they have completed their mission in Iraq. This, along with additional planned Apache capability and the Chinook Mark 3 Reversion, will deliver a significant increase in helicopter capability available to military commanders.
Mr Hutton said:
"Putting our forces on the frontline at the heart of everything we do is my priority. Crucial to that, is making sure that we get the best kit to the people who need it, when they need it - both in the short and long term.
"That is why we recently announced £700M for nearly 700 more protected vehicles for Afghanistan. Investing £70M to get more helicopters out to Afghanistan is similarly about prioritising the right equipment for troops on operations.
"And that is why for the longer term we are investing in the new aircraft carriers, Future Lynx helicopters, and according the highest priority to delivering the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme and the FRES Scout Vehicle - investment totalling some £6.5Bn."
The Secretary of State also announced a review to examine progress with implementing reforms through the MOD's Acquisition Change Programme and make any further recommendations to secure better value for money in the delivery of major acquisition programmes. He said:
"Tough decisions needed to be made and with the future value for money in mind, I have asked Bernard Gray to conduct a review into our processes for procuring and delivering major equipment programmes to make sure we deliver projects on time and on budget."
Getting the right mix of vehicles to operation commanders has been at the top of the defence equipment agenda, with a recent announcement of £700M for nearly 700 more protected patrol vehicles for Afghanistan. Based on that investment, the equipment examination has concluded the highest priority for current operations is the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme and the FRES Scout vehicle.
In addition, the new Aircraft Carriers for the Royal Navy will be brought more closely into line with the introduction of the Joint Combat Aircraft, which will result in a change to the delivery schedule. Construction on the ships is already underway and will continue with minimal implications to jobs and industry.
Details of today's announcement are in the Defence Secretary's full statement to Parliament, reproduced below:
"Since May 2008 the Ministry of Defence has been examining its equipment programme. The aims of the examination were to adapt to the rising cost of high-end defence equipment and to provide more support for current operations. The key conclusions I am announcing today help us meet these objectives; other aspects will be taken forward through our regular planning round, which will conclude next March.
"The work to date will bring the defence equipment programme more closely into balance. Inevitably this has required a reprioritisation of investment to ensure that we deliver those capabilities of the highest immediate urgency, while continuing to invest in capabilities needed to respond to future threats. We remain committed to doing more for our people, here and on the front line - improving their support and welfare, pay, medical care, rehabilitation services and accommodation.
"Support to current operations remains our highest priority. Among the top priorities of our operational commanders are the provision of the right mix of protected patrol vehicles and additional helicopter capability. The recent announcement of nearly 700 more protected patrol vehicles for Afghanistan, at a cost of over £700M, is evidence of our commitment to meet their requirements. In addition to our core budget, the Government will continue to fund the net additional costs of operations from the Treasury Reserve. Since 2001 we have received nearly £10 billion, over and above the core defence budget.
"As well as the protected mobility package, we have agreed with the Treasury a budget of a further £635m in 2009/10 for other urgent operational requirements, with any expenditure over and above that being met initially by the Reserve but repaid by the defence budget after two years.
"We undertook to inform Parliament about the major decisions emerging from our examination of the equipment programme as soon as we were able to do so. The following are the key conclusions.
"In May 2008 we announced the provisional selection of Piranha V, offered by General Dynamics (UK) Ltd, as the preferred design for the FRES Utility Vehicle. Following a period of intensive negotiations with General Dynamics to address a number of commercial issues, it became clear to both parties that it would not be possible to reach agreement on the commercial conditions required to enable further progress on the basis of the current procurement strategy. I have therefore decided that we should withdraw General Dynamics (UK)'s provisional preferred bidder status.
"Our examination of the equipment programme has, separately, considered the balance of investment and priority in the Army's armoured vehicle programme. We have concluded that, in the context of current operations, and bearing in mind the considerable recent investment in protected mobility, the highest priority should now be accorded to delivering the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme and the FRES Scout vehicle as quickly as possible. Against that background, we have decided to restructure the FRES programme, giving priority to FRES Scout over the FRES Utility Vehicle. Whilst this will mean a delay to the programme, we recognise the importance of the Utility Vehicle and are now looking at the best way to take this procurement forward. General Dynamics (UK) will have an opportunity to compete in any future Utility Vehicle competition.
"We have increased the number of helicopter airframes and hours available to our commanders in Afghanistan by around 60% over the past two years, and will make a further significant increase in helicopter capacity in Afghanistan over the next two years.
"In addition to our planned battlefield helicopter procurements, we will be spending £70 million from the Reserve to upgrade 12 Lynx Mark 9 helicopters with new engines, with the first aircraft available by the end of 2009. This will give commanders more helicopters able to operate effectively all year round in the hot and high altitude in Afghanistan, freeing up other aircraft for other tasks. Taken with the Chinook Mark 3 reversion, the additional planned Apache capability and the Merlins that we plan to move to Afghanistan once they have completed their mission in Iraq, this will deliver a significant increase in helicopter capability available to military commanders.
"The new AgustaWestland Future Lynx helicopter will provide even greater operational capability when it comes into service, as planned, in 2014.
"We have concluded that there is scope for bringing more closely into line the introduction of the Joint Combat Aircraft and the Aircraft Carrier. This is likely to mean delaying the In Service Date of the new carriers by 1-2 years. We are in close consultation with the Aircraft Carrier Alliance on how this might best be done. Construction is already under way and will continue, the programme will still provide stability for the core shipyard workforce, including 10,000 UK jobs.
"We have also reviewed all the components of the MARS fleet auxiliary programme, and have concluded that there is scope for considering alternative approaches to its procurement which is likely to involve the deferral of the fleet tanker element.
"I have also instituted a review, to be led by Bernard Gray, to examine progress with implementing reforms through the MOD's Acquisition Change Programme and make any further recommendations to secure better value for money in the delivery of major acquisition programmes.
"Any further significant changes to the equipment programme will be announced following the conclusion of the MOD's current planning round in March. While that work continues, I intend to control new commitments carefully to ensure we do not restrict our flexibility unnecessarily, though this will not be allowed to hold up support to current operations or our other highest priorities."
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