The Defence Rotary Wing Capability Study was commissioned to ensure that the Department has the right plans in place to meet the demands on helicopter capability in the future. I am pleased to say that the study is now complete and, given the interest taken in the study by Parliament, I wanted to take the opportunity to announce its key findings. As the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who has responsibility for defence equipment, support and technology, stated in his response on 30 April 2012, Official Report, column 1142W, I should reiterate that the findings include no major changes to our previously announced plans.
The study reviewed the full rotary wing requirement for the land, sea and air environments. This encompassed all helicopter roles: attack, lift, reconnaissance and search and rescue. The study was broken down into six work strands covering future force structure, training and simulation, support, specialist roles, basing, and search and rescue.
The aim was to look across all areas of the Department to ensure that we are working as efficiently as possible to deliver the plans for rotary wing capability outlined in the strategic defence and security review. The study confirmed the following plans:
to move the MOD’s rotary wing capability to four core fleets, the Chinook, Wildcat, Merlin and Apache helicopters;
to complete the Puma life extension programme, which extends the out of service date for Puma Mk2 to 2025; this offers resilience to the Department’s lift capability as it transitions to the four core fleets; and
to transfer the Merlin Mk 3/3a to the Royal Navy’s commando helicopter force.
As a result of this review, the Department has:
identified opportunities in training and support as the most promising areas to achieve rationalisation and efficiencies. Broadly this includes making better use of simulated training and adopting a simpler approach to procurement and alternative models for support;
considered alternative ways of organising our helicopters and concluded that Joint Helicopter Command should continue to command land-based (battlefield) helicopters and Navy Command should continue to command maritime helicopters;
confirmed the end of MOD provision of Rotary Wing Search and Rescue at the remaining eight military bases upon withdrawal of the Sea King in April 2016. This will then be performed by a contractor through the Department for Transport, as the Secretary of State for Transport announced to Parliament on 28 November 2011, Official Report, columns 52-53WS.
The MOD and other interested parties will now consider the recommendations and these findings will now be taken forward as part of routine departmental business.