In 2006 Britain considered one of the most unusual public-private proposals ever seen. The question before the Ministry of Defense was how to replace Britain’s remaining H-3 Sea Kings, and its 34 AS330 Puma HC1 medium helicopters, all of which entered service during the 1960s and 1970s. Eventually, Britain formally abandoned its public-private partnership proposal in favor of an upgrade contract for its old AS330 Pumas, which narrowly survived cancellation.
Refurbishments and the Roadmap
Enhancements for the Puma Mk.2 include uprated Makila 1A1 turboshaft engines. They’re a slightly lower-performing option than the similar Makila 1A2, but still offer 35% more power and 25% better fuel efficiency than the Puma HC1’s Turbomeca Turmo 3-C4s. Other upgrades include a full glass (digital displays) cockpit incorporating a flight management system; a digital automatic flight control system; a secure communications suite, SELEX Galileo’s HIDAS defensive systems, and ballistic protection for crew and passengers.
The upgraded helicopters will combine greater onboard fuel capacity with lower fuel consumption, leaving the Mk2s able to carry twice the payload over 3 times the range of its AS330 predecessor, and operate in all environmental conditions.
As of June 2013, 8 upgraded Puma Mk.2s have been delivered to the RAF, and the helicopters are envisioned to serve until 2025.
Meanwhile, there United Kingdom’s armed forces have been fighting a war or two. Between 2006 and 2013, complaints about the lack of battlefield helicopter support became acute, resulting in temporary fixes like buying 6 operational Danish EH101 helicopters, and paying the about GBP 176 million cost of refit plus future replacements.
The longer term roadmap was clarified by the UK’s December 2009 CH-47F purchase, which was released in conjunction with a wider plan that set force levels for all sizes of British battlefield helicopter support. About 60 heavy-lift Chinook helicopters, and 28 AW101 medium-heavy AW101 Merlin HC3s, comprise the high end. The 24 upgraded Puma Mk.2s will provide a medium lift option, above Britain’s planned 28 AW159 Wildcat Mk.1 battlefield utility helicopters.
Contracts & Key Events
June 25/20: GECO The United Kingdom has renewed for a further five years its Graphical Electronic Cockpit Organizer (GECO) Mission Support System (GECO MSS) contract for the Royal Air Force (RAF’s) Puma Force. This contract extension with Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) will see RAF Benson’s 33 and 230 squadrons equipped with the system until 2025, with the Westland-Aerospatiale SA 330E Puma HC2 fleet using GECO MSS on all flying operations in the UK and internationally. GECO Air, as the system is known in its airborne configuration, is designed to complement an aircraft’s existing onboard avionics systems by bringing commercial off-the-shelf hardware technology to the cockpit.
June 6/13: Deployment. The Royal Air Force saw the first deployment of new Puma Mk2 helicopters to Afghanistan, three weeks after achieving Initial Operating Capability.
2010 – 2013
Program avoids cancellation, but reduced from 30 – 24; 1st delivery; Training & Support contracts.
June 6/13: Support. Eurocopter receives a 3-year, EUR 60 million (about $78.5 million/ GBP 51.14 million) support award for the 24 Puma Mk.2s they’re contracted to upgrade.
At present, all 24 Pumas slated for the program have been inducted. Deliveries of qualified helicopters under the 2009 upgrade contract began in 2012, with 8 helicopters received as of June 2013. Formal fielding is set to begin this year. Eurocopter.
3-year Support deal
Sept 13/12: Delivery. Eurocopter hands over its first Puma Mk2, which will fly from Oxford into QinetiQ’s Boscombe Down facility for support trials. To date, Eurocopter has completed the initial upgrade process on 3 of 24 Puma helicopters, all of which are now involved in flight testing. Eurocopter.
July 6/12: Eurocopter’s first internal qualification of the Puma Mk2 is achieved, concluding the first phase, with further enhancements to its mission capabilities planned over the coming months. Source.
June 12/12: Minister for the Armed Forces Nick Harvey enters the following statement into the UK House of Commons Hansard:
“The Defence Rotary Wing Capability Study… is now complete… the findings include no major changes to our previously announced plans… The study confirmed the following plans:
to move the MOD’s rotary wing capability to four core fleets, the [CH-47] Chinook, [AW159] Wildcat, [AW101] Merlin and [WAH-64D] 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;”
May 2012: Reduction. After an UK MoD review of overall helicopter requirements, but before the public announcement, a contract amendment drops the total number of refurbished helicopters from 30 to 24. The change was a reduction, not a conversion to options. If Britain wants more later, they will have the donor airframes for conversion if they choose to preserve them. Source: Eurocopter.
Down to 24
Jan 11/12: Canceled? Britain’s tabloid The Sun reports that The RAF’s fleet of Puma helicopters is about to be canceled, as a way to free up some money for other programs:
“…last night a military insider said: “The upgrade is officially ongoing, but the word is that actual work has ground to a halt. The loss of the Puma would be a huge blow. The decision will be made this month, but the signs aren’t good.” …An MoD source said: “There is a military proposal to spend money on other projects instead of the Puma, which is seen as a low priority as it’s not due to serve in Afghanistan.”
The UK MoD responds with a non-answer on the same day, but note the emphasis at the end:
“The Sun reports that the fleet of Puma helicopters, due to provide security for the Olympics, are to be cut amid defence savings. Each year we review our procurement plans to take account of changes over the previous 12 months… Final decisions have yet to be taken, but this annual process rightly considers the status of all our key programmes… Afghanistan remains the top priority…”
See Sept 29/09 entry, below – with 14 Pumas scheduled for delivery this year, and expected contractual penalties for cancellation, the question is how much money this move would actually save.
June 16/10: Training. CAE in Montreal, QB, Canada announces that the UK Ministry of Defence (UK MoD) has bought a major upgrade to their Puma helicopter simulator and training services. That package must be upgraded to remain faithful to the upgraded helicopters, reflecting different performance in flight thanks to the new engines, and mirroring the new cockpits and communications gear.
Work will proceed at CAE’s Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility, housed at Royal Air Force Base Benson. The UK upgrades are presented as one of 2 projects highlighted, in reference to “recent military contracts valued at more than C$100 million” ($97.5 million). The other contract mentioned is a new full mission C-130H simulator, a product CAE has lots of experience with.
2007 – 2009
OK, public-private partnership was a bad idea; Assessment phase leads to contract for 28 + 2 upgrades; HIDAS ECM contract.
Oct 13/09: ECM. As part of their modernization, Britain’s 28 upgrades Pumas will receive a defensive suite from Finmeccanica subsidiary SELEX Galileo. The upgrade will be based on the firm’s HIDAS system. Their Defensive Aids Suite controller (also known as Aircraft Gateway Processor) has been installed in the RAF’s CH-47 Chinooks, and equips AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters operated by the USA and allies, including Britain. A multi-function color display will warn crews of threats, increasing situational awareness, and will have the ability to record mission data for post-flight analysis. Shephard Rotorhub | HIDAS datasheet [PDF].
Sept 29/09: The UK Ministry of Defence announces GBP 300 million (currently $476 million) in contracts to upgrade 28 of the RAF’s Puma HC1 helicopters, with options for another 2, for up to 30/34 existing helicopters. Deliveries are due to start in 2011, and the first 14 aircraft are planned to be in service by the end of 2012. The overall contract will run until 2014.
EADS’ Eurocopter UK is the prime contractor for the Puma Life Extension Programme, and their release lists its total value to them as GBP 220 million. UK sub-contractors include:
* Chelton at Yatton near Bath
* QinetiQ at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire
* Rockwell Collins in South Wales
* Selex at Luton
* Smiths in Gloucester
* Thales UK at Raynes Park, London and Leicester
Around GBP 45 million will be spent on new Turbomeca Makila 1A1 engines, which power AS 332/532 Super Pumas. It’s a slightly lower-performing option than the similar Makila 1A2, but still offers 35% more power and 25% better fuel efficiency than the Puma fleet’s current Turbomeca Turmo 3-C4s. A GBP 220 million contract to Eurocopter will refurbish the fleet for at least 10 years’ further service, including new flight control equipment and modern cockpit and communications technology. The remaining GBP 35 million will be spent on other contracts in support of the upgrade.
Puma Life Extension contract
Nov 22/07: OK, bad idea. Britain formally withdraws the public-private partnership proposal for battlefield support helicopters [PDF]. This paragraph from the EDA bulletin board solicitation may offer some clarity re: likely foci for future Puma upgrades and support measures, however:
“The primary task is Battlefield Lift, with the contractor being expected to provide, install, modify and certify the aircraft with necessary role equipment, including a Defensive Aids System, Ballistic Protection and Military Communications before the operational ISD and then (at the end of the lease period) remove such modifications. The aircraft will also be expected to undertake medical evacuation and communication support duties overseas and in the UK. The aircraft will need to be capable of single pilot IFR operations including within civil controlled airspace, and be fully compatible with UK Night Vision Goggles. The aircraft will be operated by military crews in accordance with JSP550. Prior to the In-Service Date and during the life of the requirement the contractor shall be responsible for Aircrew Conversion to Type training, familiarisation training for surveillance operators and training of the Authority’s maintainers.”
PPP idea withdrawn
Sept 27/07: Program set up. Eurocopter and the UK MoD formally opened a Joint Project Office (JPO) to manage the Puma life extension program, located adjacent to MOD Abbey Wood in Bristol. The JPO is staffed by personnel from Eurocopter and the MoD’s Defence Equipment and Support organization. Subject to satisfactory completion and approval, will move on to manage the Development and Manufacture phase in 2008.
The JPO will also manage the Puma and Gazelle Through-Life Support (TLS) program. EADS release.
Sept 12/07: Assessment phase. “Eurocopter leads Homeland Security Market in the United Kingdom and strongly supports the British Armed Forces” covers a number of related subjects:
“Under contract to the UK Ministry of Defence, Eurocopter is carrying out the assessment phase for the life extension programme for the RAF’s fleet of Puma Mk1 helicopters with the aim of enhancing the British Armed Forces’ much-needed medium-lift capability. It is managed by a Eurocopter/Ministry of Defence Joint Project Office, already in operation in Bristol since August 20, 2007. The programme will be based on comprehensive upgrades, including new Turbomeca Makila engines, glass cockpits, and new communications, navigation and defensive systems for up to 35 of the RAF’s Pumas.
The Assessment Phase, scheduled for a period of one year, will consider the detailed technical, operational and cost implications of the upgrade and will lead, upon successful completion, to a full development and manufacture contract for delivery of the main programme.
The new Pumas, which will be designated Puma HC Mk2, will consequently be capable of remaining in service until around 2022. Their performance and payload will be significantly enhanced, particularly in hot and high conditions. As the backbone of the RAF’s fleet of medium-lift helicopters, the Pumas will continue to play a vital role in operational theatres such as Iraq and Afghanistan.”
* RAF – Puma HC1