Sunday, November 29, 2009


Can anybody tell me why this isn't a bigger story? Essentially, the government is buying 20-odd new Chinook helicopters for the RAF support helicopter force, and transferring the existing "green" Merlins to the Navy's commando helicopter squadrons. This means a significant increase in helicopters, and relief for the Navy support helicopter squadrons, who have been getting on with the oldest aircraft in the inventory, divided into no fewer than four sub-fleets. They get a proper helicopter; all the Merlins will be concentrated in the Navy, thus getting rid of the need to duplicate bits of the support system. And the RAF support fleet gets a lot more Chinooks.

The key to this is that Boeing has at last been willing to let Chinooks be built under licence in Europe, which sounds like a detail until you realise that the production line in the States is tied up with an order for Canada. There has never been a pony, no matter what the Tories might say.

This should finally close the long-running saga of buying new helicopters; over the last 15 years or so, there have been three different projects, which agreed only that the requirement would be a helicopter of some sort. Geoff Hoon unwisely decided to spend quite a lot of money upgrading the RAF Puma force in 2004, but those can't carry a useful load in Afghanistan. Around about the same time, the government chose to save on the support helicopter budget as well as on the infantry, which killed off a plan to get the Navy marinised Chinooks. This would probably have been the last opportunity to get any new ones before the big commitment to Afghanistan.

So yes, blame Hoon and indeed Gordon Brown by all means. But it was never as simple as that.

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