17 July 2009


Lots of heat and not a lot of light in the arguments over helicopters for Afghanistan.

I have no specialised knowledge but I have seen enough movies to know that helicopters come in different shapes and sizes. You need relatively big ones to transport troops whereas smaller ones may only serve as gun platforms. Not that you'd know from the exchanges between Cameron and Brown; these have focussed on overall numbers - or rather on percentage increases in overall numbers, which must be relatively meaningless when it is troop carriers in which we are interested.

Anyway, The Guardian has (at long last) come up with some figures:
Britain's 9,000 troops in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province have fewer than 25 helicopters – 10 Chinooks, five Sea Kings and eight Apache attack aircraft – at their disposal.
The problem has been compounded by the purchase of eight Chinooks from Boeing, which were not fitted to British standards.

Is ten Chinooks enough? Probably not, but who really knows? Is there an accepted ratio of helicopters to troops? Meanwhile, the argument does not appear to be going anywhere sensible.


The Times has more:
In addition there are eight Chinooks which have never flown and are being taken apart by engineers at Boscombe Down, Dorset. These are the infamous Mark 3As which were bought for £259 million for special forces and delivered to the RAF in 2001, but had to be parked for seven years in an air-condioned hangar because the MoD had failed to ask Boeing for rights to the avionics software.
Without it, the helicopters were mere hulks that could not be flown.
They are now being “reverted” to Chinook Mark 3Rs for regular troops in Afghanistan. Robert Key, the Conservative MP for Salisbury, whose constituency includes Boscombe Down, revealed that each Chinook was having “24,000 bits of wire” removed as part of the modification.
This is because the Chinook Mark 3As, which were designed for the digital age, with digitised wiring and an advanced cockpit for covert operational flying, are being turned into ordinary utility helicopters — with analog wiring.

I'm not sure that MOD should be allowed to buy anything more complicated than a meccano set - and, even then, it should be carefully supervised.

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