Britain Considers Privatizing Battlefield Support Helicopters, Then Recants
The use of outsourcing for support functions from construction to fuel convoys is becoming more normal in Western militaries. Britain has become a leader in public-private partnerships for the through-life maintenance of its military equipment, a set of preferences that are now embedded in its Defence Industrial Strategy. A notice posted by the UK’s Defence Procurement Agency on the European Defence Agency’s Electronic Bulletin Board (under the new EDA code of conduct), takes the next step, and proposes to buy Britain’s next set of medium utility helicopters and their maintenance as a lease from private contractors.
The machines would perform battlefield lift and would still be operated by military crews, but the DPA is up-front about the potential issues and the fact that they’re flying in uncharted territory, as it were.
The Defense-Aerospace reproduction of this notice establishes that they’re considering a turnkey lease of civil-owned, military-registered helicopters to replace the current fleet of Sea King and Puma HC1 helicopters, which entered RAF service during the 1960s and 1970s. The new helicopters would be offered together with associated training and support services, as a 10 year contract with an expected operational In-Service Date (ISD) of 2010/11.
Both civil registration and the aircraft’s modification to add military defensive systems would be required, along with removal of said equipment once the contract expired. Hours and the sets of tasks assigned are described, and the estimated value falls under “Class A” as over GBP 400 million.
The potential issues with this approach include through-life affordability, value for money, balance sheet accounting treatment, the ability to obtain affordable insurance given the helicopters’ operation in high threat environments, and limitations on use or return conditions that would be necessary for the contractor to protect their investment, but unacceptable to the military.
A pre-qualification questionnaire to interested firms is intended to help the UK Ministry of Defence explore these issues, which the DPA also explores options to extend the in-service life of existing Puma and Sea King helicopters as a ‘Plan B’ (note that the Sea Kings are already under a long-term maintenance contract by Agusta-Westland of Cascina Costa di Samarate, Italy). Interested firms will be responsible for all expenses in responding to the MoD’s initial explorations, with a decision on which option to pursue expected in about a year.
Sept 12/07: A Eurocopter announcement indicates that the MoD is leaning toward a href=”/britain-prepares-to-modernize-puma-helicopter-fleet-03784/”>life extension instead.