Fewer than one in three of Britain's Apache attack helicopters 'fit for purpose'

November 24th, 2008  

Topic: Fewer than one in three of Britain's Apache attack helicopters 'fit for purpose'

Is this true I had no idea England was having difficulty maintaining their fleet?
Fewer than one in three of Britain's Apache attack helicopters 'fit for purpose'

Fewer than one in three of the Army's billion pound fleet of Apache attack helicopters is "fit for purpose" for front line operations, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

Of the 67 now in service with the Army Air Corps, just 20 are available for combat in Afghanistan or for training pilots in the United Kingdom.
The helicopter, which has proven to be a battle-winning asset in Afghanistan, where it provides close combat support to British troops, has become another victim of the overstretch affecting the whole of Britain's armed forces.
The heat and dust of the Helmand desert and the constant use of the aircraft on combat operations has started to degrade the fighting capability of the entire fleet, according to defence sources.
The highly sophisticated aircraft requires many hours of servicing every month and the arduous conditions in southern Afghanistan, where temperatures in the summer can reach 45C, dramatically shortens the life of the engine and the Apache's rotor blades.
The Apache has flown hundreds of missions since troops first arrived in Helmand in 2006, when it was used in combat for the first time. Although the Taliban have often targeted the aircraft, none have so far been shot down.
Details released by the Ministry of Defence in answer to a parliamentary question submitted by the Conservative Party show that just 53 per cent of the 40 strong Chinook fleet, which provides vital support in Helmand, are regarded as "fit for purpose".
The newly released figures also show that approximately 55 per cent of the RAF's Hercules Transport aircraft which resupply troops in both the Iraq and Afghanistan are now capable of taking part in operations.
The Apache provides vital "top cover" for troops in Helmand and is on constant call when soldiers patrol into enemy controlled areas such as the "Green Zone".
The heavily armed Apache, which is equipped with a 30mm chain gun, Hydra rockets and Hellfire anti-tank missiles, has saved numerous British lives. The aircraft is now so essential to the military mission in Helmand that troops rarely venture out on large scale operations without support from the Apache.
Two Apaches which the Taliban have dubbed the "mosquito" are also used to fly "shotgun" alongside support helicopters such as Chinooks whenever they leave Camp Bastion, the main British base in Helmand.
The helicopter is also fitted with a vast array of highly sophisticated night vision equipment and is often used on reconnaissance missions.
While the Chinook does not provide fire support to ground troops it is vital for the Afghan mission. Most of the out stations in Helmand are resupplied by Chinook and the helicopter provides a vital role in evacuating injured troops from the battlefield back to the main hospital at Camp Bastion.
Defence chiefs have been complaining for months that the armed forces are "running hot" and only last week General Sir Richard Dannatt warned that the government had an "absolute responsibility" to provide British troops with the best equipment and training for British men and women serving on the front line.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph he said: "If you are committing young people to battle they have to be given the best, and when circumstances change they have to be given the best again.
"The reason the Army has been under such pressure for the past three years is that we are committed to fighting two wars when we are only structured to fight one."
Liam Fox, the Tory Shadow defence secretary, said: "It is extremely worrying that so many aircraft which are essential to our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not fit for purpose.
"These figures illustrate a shortage of battlefield enablers that could lead to dangerous consequences for our fighting troops on the ground.
"Furthermore, the burden placed on the air bridge will cause more delays getting home for leave and will damage the morale of our service members and their families.
"The vital work our troops are doing in Afghanistan is being undermined by this Government's inability to provide them with the equipment they need. The real problem was Labour's catastrophic 1.4 billion cut to the helicopter budget in 2004. Our troops are now paying the consequences for this decision."
A spokesman for the MoD, said: "Helicopters and aircraft are technologically advanced pieces of equipment; it is not as simple as servicing a car on the road. We are meeting all operational and training requirements, and our maintenance programmes are flexible enough to ensure that we continue to meet these demands. Due to the harsh nature of operations the helicopters require some servicing to be conducted while they are in use on the front line. All of these factors have a bearing on the number of platforms that are available at any given time."


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