Friday, January 13, 2012

This month, the Puma could die

First reported by The Sun, is the rumor that the Puma upgrade, even though it has put the first upgraded helicopter into the air already and prepares to deliver the first 14 of 24 helicopters this year, might be cancelled before the month is over.
In the never ending search for new savings, it is reported that the Puma was offered by the MOD as preferred cut, thought to be relatively painless compared to other alternatives.

The money saved would go into other projects (Jane's reports that the RN is keeping pressure up to secure funding for the indispensable navalization of the Merlin HC3 and 3A for amphibious ops, with the Sea King HC4 planned to retire in 2016), but the issue is that, with the Puma upgrade having reached such an advanced stage and with penalties written into the contract, it is unclear what effective saving could be achieved. Probably not much.

On the other hand, the Puma upgrade does not add much in itself, considering its over 300 millions cost for delivering a Forwards Fleet planned in 22 helicopters and crews. 300 millions for 24 airframes which first hit service in 1971, upgraded to last only out to 2024?
That would work out as 6 Flights in 2 Squadrons, (5 frontline flights and an OCU flight) of 3/4 helicopters each, with a Flight being the maximum long-term sustainable deployed force to be pulled out of the investment.
It was always way too expensive to make real sense to me.

With Afghanistan to end by 2014, it seems that the Armed Forces are ready to accept a compromise: there will be a sharp drop in Utility helicopters availability if the Puma is retired, especially since the new Chinooks are still a few years away, and the Merlin HC3s will have to start being sent to factory as soon as possible for their Mid Life Extension and navalization.
The Puma was supposed to mitigate the problem by working in the Merlin's place while the HC3 was upgraded and navalized.

Now this stopgap might vanish, leaving the forces thin on helicopter numbers for a good while.
We'll see what happens.


  1. Gabriele

    I would be extremely concerned if Puma went and the RAF was left with just the Chinook for Army support. Puma is a utility transport helicopter and not a medium/heavy lift machine like the Chinook. It can presumably land in more confined spaces than the Chinook and is therefore much more valuable in campaigns which involve urban operations, for instance. It adds considerable flexibility to operations. Also I don't know to what extent the Merlin would be available to support British Army operations once it is navalized to support, primarily presumably, the Royal Marines.

  2. Sorry, I have sent a second copy of the above letter by mistake. Please delete second copy. Thanks.

  3. The Merlin, via CHC, would move around Army soldiers like Commando Sea Kings have done for years in Stan.

    The point is that a Naval helicopter works wonderfully on land, but the opposite isn't true. This makes navalization of the Merlin indispensable.
    Again, Merlin is newer and more performant, so its life extension is more important than a short, expensive extension to Puma.

    Cancelling Puma is not at all good, nice or desirable. But not doing it might impose even worse cuts somewhere else.

  4. Gabriele

    Thanks for the reply. It makes very good sense.


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