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.