UK closer to plugging helicopter shortfall

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The UK Ministry of Defence is close to making a decision on the first phase of an incremental programme to resolve its battlefield helicopter shortfall, with a choice on whether to pursue an interim lease deal or further extend operations of its Westland Puma and Sea King fleets.

Maj Gen Gary Coward, commander of the UK's Joint Helicopter Command (JHC), says a lease deal of between five and 10 years could plug the organisation's current capability gap while a full assessment of its long-term needs is completed. The MoD last month outlined an Interim Medium Lift proposal worth £400 million ($750 million), which would see leased aircraft delivered from 2011.

Speaking at the Defence Aviation Repair Agency's Fleetlands site in Hampshire, where the UK's Boeing CH-47 Chinook, Westland Lynx and Sea King helicopters undergo "depth" maintenance, Coward also stressed the importance of the UK's ongoing logistics transformation process in improving the availability and serviceability of JHC assets.

The UK Defence Logistics Organisation says its new maintenance and support practices have increased the number of support helicopters available at the frontline and raised the interval between major maintenance, while also cutting overall support costs. "The change over the last 18 months has been enormous," says UK Chief of Defence Logistics Gen Sir Kevin O'Donoghue.

Eurocopter is scheduled, by 30 November, to respond to an invitation to tender (ITT) to provide a five-year through-life support package for the MoD's Puma and Gazelle helicopters. A contract worth between £20 million and £100 million is expected to be signed on 1 June 2007. AgustaWestland will by 29 September respond to an ITT covering the second phase of the UK's Sea King Integrated Operational Support project, worth over £400 million. A contract signature is anticipated in November 2007.