Helicopter shortages reflect ‘creaking’ defence system

By politics.co.uk staff

A lack of spare parts has contributed to the helicopter shortages suffered by Britain’s armed forces, a committee of MPs has said.

The public accounts committee said an over-reliance on the ‘urgent operational requirements’ process used to buy new or upgraded capabilities had sometimes led to “inadequate initial support or a time-limited capacity”.

Its report said the Mastiff vehicle had performed well but suffered spares shortages, while the need for more helicopters has been hit by the lack of ready choppers back home. Lynx helicopters are currently being upgraded and Merlin helicopters previously used in Iraq are being redeployed.

“Helicopters are a key operational capability but in addition to its own fleets the department has been reliant on significant contracted helicopter support and on coalition helicopters,” the report stated.

“Commanders say they have enough helicopters to undertake their key tasks but that greater availability would give them more flexibility in planning offensive operations.”

There has been an 11 per cent shortfall in helicopter numbers available for training and to support contingent operations, contributed to by “cannabilisation” of helicopters and spare parts for Merlin and Apache helicopters being in “short supply”.

Armed forces minister Bill Rammell insisted “huge improvements” had been achieved in meeting supply chain targets.

“Over the last 12 months vital supplies delivered to theatre have included some 500 vehicles, 2,000 tonnes of ammunition and 1,100 tonnes of fresh rations,” he said.

“We will not compromise on the quality of training and we have purchased additional vehicles for the training fleet.”