Feeds

MoD pays quadruple in money + blood for Afghan helicopters

'Our troops. We backstab them to the hilt'

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Comment So the die is cast. In yet another masterly procurement move, the UK Ministry of Defence has decided to spend hundreds of millions of pounds upgrading and restoring its aged Puma helicopters - which were due to retire next year - for service in Afghanistan. This will cost more than buying a fleet of brand new choppers.

The RAF's Puma helicopter. Credit: MoD

They should call it the Albatross, not the Puma.

Flight International reports today that the MoD has finally got round to signing its planned £300m ($479m) deal which will see "at least 28" of the RAF's 33 operational Pumas fitted with new, more powerful engines and upgraded cockpit avionics. The aged whirlybirds, which came into service in 1971, were to have been finally retired next year. The new upgrade package is expected to postpone their demise by ten years, and to give the rickety old birds enough power to operate in the tough "hot and high" conditions found in Afghanistan, where helicopters struggle to lift useful loads.

This is an unbelievably bad bargain for the UK's troops and taxpayers. Each refurbished Puma will cost $17m or thereabouts, and will last approximately ten years. Pumas can carry up to 16 troops or "two tonnes" of stuff according to the RAF.

Consider by contrast the Blackhawk from US maker Sikorsky. You can buy these with spares, support and training for $15m at the moment. They can carry 14 troops, about the same as a Puma, and have much superior lifting performance - 2.6 tonnes of stuff as opposed to 2 for the Puma. Various models of Blackhawk, unsurprisingly, can and do already operate in Afghanistan - providing vital medevac services to British troops, among other things.

The Blackhawk isn't just cheaper to buy and significantly more powerful. It's also part of a huge worldwide fleet, meaning it would offer lower running costs too. And it isn't a flying antique that might last another ten years if you're lucky - Blackhawks bought now would keep flying at least another 30 years, probably much longer if the history of the Puma is anything to go by.

And the Pumas won't be flying in Afghanistan for at least another two years - whereas new Blackhawks could have been there for at least a year by now. Sikorsky have offered repeatedly to supply choppers to deal with the British armed forces' embarrassing lack of them. If we'd bought in 2007 when the pound was strong, Sikorsky were offering 60 brand-new birds plus training for £480m. As it is we'll get 30 antiques for £300m, paying at least four times as much for every flying hour we obtain. And waiting half a decade to get them, too.

Yet again, pumping cash into lame-duck British industry which can't survive without constant taxpayer support has been deemed more important than saving the lives of British troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan - and more important than any chance of a decent military outcome for the UK there. The fix has been in on the Puma upgrade deal for some time, but until today it was possible to hope it wouldn't happen.

Eurocopter UK, Thales UK, Qinetiq and all the rest - all the British (and some non-British) firms where the champagne corks will be popping tonight following the signing of this deal - you should be ashamed. ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
GCHQ protesters stick it to British spooks ... by drinking urine
Activists told NOT to snap pics of staff at the concrete doughnut
Britain's housing crisis: What are we going to do about it?
Rent control: Better than bombs at destroying housing
What do you mean, I have to POST a PHYSICAL CHEQUE to get my gun licence?
Stop bitching about firearms fees - we need computerisation
Top beak: UK privacy law may be reconsidered because of social media
Rise of Twitter etc creates 'enormous challenges'
Redmond resists order to hand over overseas email
Court wanted peek as related to US investigation
Ex US cybersecurity czar guilty in child sex abuse website case
Health and Human Services IT security chief headed online to share vile images
NZ Justice Minister scalped as hacker leaks emails
Grab your popcorn: Subterfuge and slur disrupts election run up
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.