In another Sir Humphrey moment worthy of “Yes Minister” the UK Defense Ministry now seems unwilling to confirm its own numbers when it comes to helicopters.
Tucked away in the annex to the government’s response to the Parliament’s Defense Committee report on helicopters is the statement that “The plan we [the government] announced in December deceases slightly this number (to 126 aircraft).
The previous plan for the battlefield support helicopter role was to have 132 by 2020: 48 Chinook, 28 Merlin, 28 Puma, and 28 Future Medium Helicopters, according to the government.
Asked about the revised 126 figure, and its breakdown into types, however, the Ministry says it “can’t confirm numbers until Main Gate [procurement decision point] is reached.”
It also appeared to be the turn of rotary license in the House of Commons on March 1.
A Conservative Party motion attacked the government over what it claims was a failure “properly to fund the armed forces for wartime operations” including what it viewed as just over a $2 billion cut in the helicopter budget in 2004.
Debating the issue Bob Ainsworth, the Secretary of State For Defense, put forward an amendment to the opposition motion which included noting that: “the Ministry of Defense has brought into service…171 new helicopters…”.
Notably there was no obvious period circumscribing when the “new” helicopters began to be brought into service. Asked to clarify the 171 number the ministry said this included 67 Apache and 44 Merlin Mk1 helicopters. The prime contract for the Merlin Mk1 was placed in 1991, with the Apache contract signed in 1996. Both were signed by Conservative governments.
Picture credit AgustaWestland