Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Helicopters, heat and Afghanistan 

What is all the fuss about helicopters in Afghanistan? Well for one thing the hugely expensive British-made Lynx helicopters can't fly in a hot climate at high altitude. Basic physics about warmer air ... a distressing number of British built helicopters can only hover at sea level in temperate latitudes.

Some good references on all this on a blog called 'Defence of the Realm' which I've just found.

We reported in detail on the unhappy experiences of the Lynx in April 2007, when we had discovered that, not only were the baseline costs per hour of operating Lynx Mk7s a staggering £23,000 but, because of its inherent fragility, additional costs were being incurred. These were, "as a result of the operational use and particular climatic conditions experienced in theatre." We wrote at that time:

These costs cover additional wear and tear, additional spares and additional equipment and are paid for by the Conflict Prevention Fund. A total of £11 million has been claimed against the fund in financial year 2006-07 for additional operating and capital costs for Lynx Mk7s operating in Iraq, of which six are believed to be in service.

At that time, we also discovered that, in order to deal with the "hot and high" conditions for its deployments in Belize and Brunei, the Army had leased Bell 412s, aircraft based on the Vietnam-era Huey. The type had been selected specifically because its "unique abilities include flying in hot and often humid conditions whilst also being able to carry considerable loads." That includes the ability to lift up to 13 troops.

However the blog also analyses the claim that the recent casualties are the result of inadequate suppy of helicopters and challenges the argument being put forwards by opposition MPs. Not necessarily so....

The Conservatives' line is to accuse Brown of attempting to cover up the fact that British troops do not have enough helicopters, which has forced them to travel by road and left them vulnerable to the Taleban's IEDs. Twelve of the 15 British soldiers killed in Afghanistan this month, and three-quarters of those killed over the past two years, were killed by IEDs.

Far be it for us to disagree with the premise that more helicopters are needed in theatre, but Dr Fox is on somewhat shaky ground if he is asserting – as he appears to be doing – that the bulk of the recent deaths arose from the lack of helicopters.

And they go on to make a detailed argument challenging this, accusing the Tories of grandstanding and hot air production in their own right.

I trust our MPs such as Lynne Featherstone are being kept informed of this line of analysis.

The Lynx by the way is built at Westlands, which is in a LibDem held constituency.

Anyone got a line on who is running the 'Defence of the Realm' blog by the way?

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