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Military Aircraft: Helicopters

Volume 497: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he plans to purchase additional helicopters to assist military operations in (a) Afghanistan and (b) elsewhere. (290374)

Over the next 10 years, the Ministry of Defence intends to invest some £6 billion in its helicopter capability, including procurement of the new Lynx Wildcat, which we confirmed in December last year, and the purchase of additional lift helicopters.

This is a significant investment that will modernise and enhance our helicopter fleet, making it more suitable for extreme conditions such as hot temperatures, high altitudes and challenging operational conditions experienced in Afghanistan. Alongside investment being made from the reserve, this funding is already helping enhance our Merlin, Chinook and Lynx Mk9 fleets making them more suitable for deployment in Afghanistan. This investment will, by May 2010, allow us to double the number of UK battlefield helicopters in Afghanistan and increase the number of flying hours by more than 130 per cent. compared with November 2006. We constantly keep this situation under review.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent assessment he has made of the effect on armed forces running costs of increasing the number of helicopter platforms and reducing the variety of aircraft. (290380)

The Department recognises the potential cost savings that might result from reducing the number of fleets operated and instead investing more in fewer aircraft types. These benefits include an overall reduction in the fixed costs of delivering our helicopter capability and the opportunity to maximise the return on investment on the training and support arrangements of retained types.

Achieving such rationalisation is a key objective, although we are clear that it must not be achieved at the expense of support to current operations.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many hours training (a) on computer-based simulators and (b) in the air are required to qualify pilots for (a) Merlin, (b) Chinook and (c) Puma helicopters. (292327)

The table shows the number of hours of simulator and flight training required for each pilot undergoing Operational Conversion Flight (OCF) training for Merlin, Chinook and Puma. Each pilot will also fly additional hours undertaking co-pilot responsibilities, both on the simulator and in the aircraft. Pilots also undergo computer based training and computer aided instruction lectures and briefings as part of Ground School training.

Dedicated hours: MinutesAdditional hours: Minutes

Aircraft type

Simulator

Aircraft

Simulator

Aircraft

Ground School (days)

Merlin

58:00

29:15

58:00

23:40

28

Chinook

31:45

56:40

27:15

40:20

20

Puma

50:15

55:00

30:00

10:00

19

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the capacity of RAF Benson to train and retrain helicopter pilots is: and what such capacity exists elsewhere in the UK. (292328)

RAF Benson trains pilots on Merlin and Puma Operational Conversion Flights (OCF). The normal throughput of pilots on Merlin OCF is 16 pilots and four refresher pilots per year. However, in order to increase the Merlin force to 35 crews by 2010 the throughput is currently 24 pilots and four refresher pilots undergoing Merlin OCF training per year.

16 pilots and up to 15 refresher pilots undergo Puma OCF training at RAF Benson per year.

Similar training takes place at other air bases across the UK according to helicopter type. Chinook OCF training takes place at RAF Odiham. Sea King pilots undergo conversion training with 848 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton. Army pilots undergo Conversion To Type training onto Lynx, Gazelle and Bell 212 with 671 Squadron and onto Apache with 673 Squadron at Middle Wallop. Apache pilots then go on to Conversion To Role training with the Air Manoeuvre Training and Advisory Team at Wattisham Station.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent assessment he has made of the merits of using commercial facilities for initial training of military helicopter pilots. (292329)

Initial helicopter training for all three Services is provided by the Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) at RAF Shawbury. A civilian contractor already provides helicopters, flight simulators, air engineering, test flying functions and an element of flying instruction. Military flying instructors are also provided by members of the armed forces. The mix of military and contractor-provided instructors is kept under regular review, taking account of requirements.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what additional investment has been made in the spare parts inventories for (a) Merlin and (b) Chinook helicopters in 2008-09; and what additional investment is planned for 2009-10. (292331)

An additional Merlin (multi-aircraft) deployable spares pack was delivered in 2008-09 and further investment has been made in additional stock for deployment in Afghanistan, for which deliveries will be completed in 2009-10. Total costs to date are in the region of £18 million.

For Chinook, £19 million has been invested in the procurement of additional spares for support to operations in Afghanistan during FY 2008-09 and the first half of FY 2009-10. Spares purchased by Boeing Ltd. as part of broader support for the Chinook fleet are not included in the above.